“Dying of the Light” isn’t the worst Nicolas Cage movie of the year (not when “Left Behind” exists), and it might not even be the second-worst (“Rage”), but it’s almost certainly the most depressing. A Nicolas Cage movie written and directed by Paul Schrader sounds potentially like the most promising vehicle for either in some time, but Schrader’s film was taken away from him by Lionsgate and edited, scored and mixed without the director’s approval. Schrader has warned potential viewers that it’s not his cut, and now it looks like reviews agree with him: don’t see the new “Paul Schrader” movie.
Critics have expressed frustration and sadness about “Dying of the Light,” with many writing that the current cut suggests a more interesting, typically existential film from Schrader exists in the margins. Instead, the current version plays half like a generic Nicolas Cage thriller, complete with incoherent action scenes, and half like a movie with an obvious void of personality. Lionsgate likely took Schrader’s version away because it wasn’t commercially viable, but they haven’t replaced his touch with anything, delivering a boilerplate thriller that doesn’t even have cheap thrills.
“Dying of the Light” arrives in theaters December 5.
Chuck Bowen, Slant Magazine
On paper, the film sounds like vintage Schrader, as it’s a story of a disenfranchised loner, who, succumbing to a metaphorical ailment, decides to take the law into his own hands to morally ambiguous ends. But the meat of Schrader’s cinema is missing, as the long, deliberate, purposefully harsh compositions rich in alienated portent and stifled, deliberate longing have been replaced by the sort of fast cuts, incoherent chases, and irritatingly obvious “action movie” music that reliably mar most of Nicolas Cage’s other cheesy, low-rent ass-kickers. Read more.
David Ehrlich, The Dissolve
The idea of two feeble mortal enemies, both of whom have become vestigial relics for the causes to which they’ve pledged their lives, is rich with potential, and it’s tempting to assume that Schrader’s cut wasn’t so weighted toward its airport-paperback plot progression…Trimmed within an inch of its life to a frail 94 minutes, however, “Dying Of The Light” is left with nothing but the faintest echoes of whatever ideas might have inspired its making. It unfolds with the same slapdash senselessness that defined the other two films Cage appeared in this year. But the studio’s interference is most obvious in a garishly standard score that suffocates any unique flavor that might have survived the re-editing process. Read more.
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist
If Schrader was trying to make a more thoughtful effort than the one that is being delivered, one has to wonder about the plethora of clunky dialogue and laughable tough talk (“There are two kinds of people in this world, men of action, and everyone else”; “You think you can hide, nobody can hide from the reaper”; “As-Salaam-Alaikum, asshole”). And yet, the movie does indulge in standard action movie tropes, even if Schrader seems uninterested in them. Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Unfortunately, Schrader’s disdain for institutional dysfunction and misguided American ideals never reaches a satisfying end. The studio took the movie away from him in the editing room and it looks like it, especially during the sloven final act. As Evan and his co-worker head to Europe and close on their goal, “Dying of the Light” drops the poetic implications of its title — which draws from Dylan Thomas’ famous poem on perseverance in the face of imminent demise — and instead becomes a slack, literal-minded slog. Read more.
Peter Labuza, The Film Stage
This is to say there’s likely a truly great Cage performance in “Dying of the Light,” a CIA thriller written and directed by Paul Schrader, but it’s not one shown on screen. It’s a film full of Cage at his wide-eyed, extreme intensity, but many of the scenes seem to lose the process that made them. And, as previously reported, this is likely not the fault of the actor-helmer duo, but a studio-tampered edit that has essentially compromised all that made the film interesting in the first place, as well as led to a boycott by its main parties. This makes “Dying of the Light” an especially frustrating experience — it’s a film that clearly shows the edges of something like a deeply subversive genre thriller, but you can feel the excision of what was once interesting, leaving simply the outline. Read more.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club
Stephanie Zacharek, The Village Voice
“Dying of the Light” is an ambling, creaky drama — there’s as much stiffness in its joints as in those of its grizzled antihero — though it’s hard to know who bears the blame: Director Paul Schrader has claimed that the distributor, Grindstone, took the film and re-edited, scored, and mixed it without his input. As it is, it’s sort of a fascinating mess, a jagged, dark jumble of a thing anchored by Cage’s anguished, moony-eyed obsessiveness. It’s not bad enough to be fun, but maybe just bad enough to be intriguing. Read more.