Blu-ray Review: Dying of the Light

No director has gone from one extreme to the other as far as studio involvement quite like Paul Schrader. His last film, The Canyons was funded by Kickstarter so that he and screenwriter Brett Easton Ellis could make the film outside the Hollywood system and avoid producers putting there hands all over it so they could make the film they set out to make. With his latest film, and first since The Canyons, Schrader lost control of the film to the studio and had no say in the final edit of the film. Schrader along with stars Nicolas Cage and Antony Yelchin and executive producer Nicolas Winding Refn (who was originally supposed to direct the script written by Schrader) have publicly disowned this version of the film. From no Hollywood involvement to losing his film to the system, Schrader has been through it all, and this, the guy who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

On top of a writer/director who has struggled through his career, the films star is Nicolas Cage is at times has been one of the best actors of his time, and at times the worst. It’s impressive really to think that you can watch films like Leaving Las Vegas or Raising Arizona and they star the same actor as Ghost Rider or Season of the Witch. Cage’s filmography is such a roller coaster of amazing and terrible and everything in between that most people would probably get nauseous just looking at it. So how does this writer/director-actor team up do in Dying of the Light?

Cage plays CIA agent Evan Lake, a former bad ass, who is passed his prime and is being forced to retire when he is diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. However when his protégé, Milton Schultz (Anton Yelchin) discovers evidence that Lake’s nemesis, the one that got away, a terrorist named Banir (Alexander Karim) Lake decides to go rouge and bring this guy down once and for all. Coincidentally, Banir has a rare blood disease that requires a certain medication. So you have two former rivals way past their prime, both dying from rare diseases. The revenge part of the plot is pretty standard action fair, but the dementia adds an interesting element to things.

Cage’s performance changes throughout the film, sometimes more subtle other times quite over the top and manic, though the disease his character has been diagnosed with lends itself to manic out bursts so it works pretty well with Cage’s style. When Refn was attached to direct, Harrison Ford was on board, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of performance Ford would have brought to this role. Though, he hasn’t been as strong an actor in recent years so it easily could have been better or worse than what Cage delivers. Where Cage shines in this film is his slow slip into dementia. There are moments in this film that remind of what a great actor Cage can be and leave us wanting more.

Cage’s inconsistent performance is all the more noticeable along side Yelchin, whose performance is steady and strong. Schultz looks up to Lake and one can see that in a very similar way Yelchin looks up to Cage. He is having a blast acting along side Cage and enjoying every minute of the ride.

I think perhaps the film isn’t as action packed as your average action movie fan would want. The film really is more of a thriller/character study disguised as an action movie. It doesn’t end with big explosions or a big set piece action sequence. It ends with a conversation between two dying men who hate each other. This might confuse a lot of viewers and explain why the film has been so poorly received. However, it’s actually pretty fantastic scene. I can only guess that had Schrader finished the film himself it would have been even less of an action film and more of a character study, which seems to be his style these days. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that ending of the film was designed by the studio and not in Schrader’s original script.

It makes me sad to know that Schrader lost control of this film. One can’t help but wonder how much better it would have been had he retained it. That said, even with studio meddling this is still a better over all film than The Canyons, so maybe Schrader is better off working with the Hollywood system.

The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 DTSHD-MA. surround sound. This is a great looking and sounding film.

You get Behind the scenes: (14 min.) A typical making of. It’s interesting to see Cage and Schader talk so highly of the film, knowing that they would later disown it. Cast and Crew interviews: (19 min.) The full interviews that were edited down into the behind the scenes. Deleted/Extended Scenes: (23 min.) Cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth talked about how Schrader had planning a very specific color palette for this film that the studio white washed out when they re-edited the film. These deleted scenes give a little bit of an idea of what this film would have looked like had Schrader been able to finish it.

I was really expecting the worst when I sat down to watch this, after what I’d read about it and what I’d come to expect from Cage in recent years. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. It’s not the best movie of either man’s career, but it wasn’t a waste of time either. It was an interesting idea, and I can’t help but wonder if some day it will get a director’s cut.

Lionsgate presents Dying Of The Light. Written and directed by: Paul Schrader. Starring: Nicolase Cage, Anton Yelchin and Alexander Karim. Running time: 94 min. Rating: R. Released: February 17, 2015.

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