Dying of the Light Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Alexander Karim. Directed by Paul Schrader. Rated R. Available on Video on Demand.
Paul Schrader has worked on a number of highly acclaimed films over the course of his 40-year career, both as a writer (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) and a director (American Gigolo, Light Sleeper). But the last decade or so has seen Schrader struggle with getting projects off the ground, often finding himself at odds with his collaborators. That’s the case again for his latest film, Dying of the Light, which he claims was hijacked by producers and edited, mixed and scored without his input. Schrader (who wrote and directed) and stars Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin have all distanced themselves from the finished film.
We may never get a chance to see Schrader’s cut (reportedly nearly three hours long), but the version available now on VOD (a lean 94 minutes) has only minimal indications that it could have been something better. Cage plays Evan Lake, a veteran CIA agent suffering from frontotemporal dementia, who goes rogue to track down a long-presumed-dead terrorist (Alexander Karim). Evan’s condition provides a convenient opportunity for a sometimes enjoyably unhinged Cage performance, but the plot proceeds on a bland procedural track, with lots of exposition and not much action. Certain off-kilter shots hint at a more impressionistic version of the story that Schrader might have been planning, and there are times when the plot feels rushed, with details that have been left out. Maybe Schrader’s preferred version wouldn’t have been a better movie, but at least it might have matched the oddball intensity of its lead performance.