Sunday, May 31, 2020

Dying of the Light: Cage and Yelchin at Their Best

Movie Review: Dying of the Light (2014)
Version: HBO on Demand

Dying of the Light will never rate up there with any of the great suspense or spy films of either the 20th or 21st centuries, but on a cool weekday evening, it suffices. Nicolas Cage as a broken down CIA agent whose life has been spent recouping his frittered away legacy career and Anton Yelchin as an up-and-coming agent backing his mentor are probably the best part of the film. Cage can play a pretty fired up down-cast character full of angst and frustration and he does so with verve and gusto in this story. Yelchin is always the fresh young face never sure of his footing but willing to give it his all -- he fills this role well here. Would that the script had given them more room to actually act.

In this not all bad, not all good story, Cage plays Evan Lake, a tired and struggling CIA agent with a degenerative brain condition that is slowly but inexorably wiping away his mental skills just as he has discovered his arch terrorist enemy has resurfaced after 22 years. This is Lake's one last chance to bring Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim) to justice or perhaps just exact revenge on him, one last chance before he himself loses his cognitive abilities and the CIA loses interest. Yelchin plays Milton Schultz, an inexperienced but learning CIA agent who has spent his fledgling career tailing Lake and learning the ropes, and now he notices something's wrong and wants to help, but Lake won't be straight with him. As Lake slowly opens up to Schultz about his problem and his discovery, he decides Schultz may be more than a young pup who won't give up his bone, he may be helpful in getting to Banir, if he doesn't get in the way and get himself hurt.

The CIA for its part isn't convinced Banir even exists and doesn't want to invest assets to go after him. And they worry Lake is on a wild chase for nothing. They also worry Lake is a danger to himself and others, so they try to sideline him. But Lake goes rogue, taking Schultz along, however reluctantly. And so off on the chase they go to Eastern Europe and the Middle East in search of a dangerous man no one is sure is really there.

There is little remarkable about the plot or the settings, nor really the side characters, to make this film interesting. This is really a two-man film. The bad guys are stereotyped lifeless mannequins placed around conveniently to be killed as scripted. Injuries are just bothers, although the bad guys are always quickly taken out and on to the next. Lake and Schultz shrug off wounds, although Lake's rib wound looks pretty serious.

I won't go on. Cage and Yelchin, who was at this point mid-stride in what would be a growing career cut short by a strange vehicle accident in real life, are on top of their game. They are what saved this film. If you're tired of network game shows during the week, give Dying of the Light a watch and enjoy Cage and Yelchin at their best.

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