Nicolas Cage in: Dying of the Light

Dying of the Light

Released in 2014 ▪ Review posted December 8, 2014

“The state of California has no business subsidizing intellectual curiosity.”

Ronald Reagan

Dying of the Light is not a movie. It’s an extruded byproduct of Hollywood’s vapid, anti-creative culture. Allegedly written and directed by frequent Scorsese collaborator Paul Schrader, this thing had tons of potential. Unfortunately—and much like Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist—it was taken from him in the editing room, re-cut by the studio, and presented as something different, presumably to be more marketable. In the entirety of the 12-county San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area where Cage Match headquarters is located, just one movie theater is showing Dying of the Light. So much for marketability.

The central plot, about a forcibly retired CIA agent tracking a terrorist while succumbing to early-onset dementia, is solid. The decision to cast Nicolas Cage as Evan Lake was solid too (although the part was initially offered to Harrison Ford). In an early scene we are told that his type of dementia, frontotemporal, can cause irrational mood swings that become increasingly frequent. That alone should have been a gold mine for Nicolas Cage. Maybe it was.

Lake has no character arc. Because of the editing, Cage swings from scene to scene, reacting strongly to events for barely any reason, investing deeply in people and situations you didn’t realize were supposed to be emotional touchpoints for him. As he starts his rogue quest to take down his terrorist nemesis, he is joined by a junior CIA agent played by Anton Yelchin (who inexplicably uses Christian Bale Batman Voice). No explanation is given for why Yelchin’s character is willing to throw away his career for a co-worker’s vengeance quest, and no resolution is provided when his character’s task is complete.

The whole thing smells like the product of big business meddling where it didn’t belong. The studios and producers thought they were getting a Nic Cage action flick, but when they were handed a heady character drama about loyalty and revenge, they stepped in and ruined their own product, shitting all over the release and inciting the lead actors to protest.

If nothing else, Dying of the Light at least reinforces the hypothesis that a studio’s expectations can make or break a Nic Cage film. If Leaving Las Vegas proved that Cage is a good actor, Dying of the Light proves that any decent Cage performance can be re-cut into a series of emotionally incoherent segments. In light of that, evaluation becomes nearly impossible. Perhaps the only true way to judge Nicolas Cage would be to see him perform live? Here’s hoping for a remount of Hurlyburly.

How was the movie?
How was Nic Cage’s acting?
Impossible to evaluate
Did his performance make the movie worse?
Did it?