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January 2014

Dying of the Light poster

cast: Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Irene Jacob, and Alexander Karim

writer and director: Paul Schrader

94 minutes (15) 2015
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Signature VOD
[released 2nd January]

RATING: 7/10
review by Christopher Geary

Dying of the Light advert

Dying Of The Light

A politically and emotionally charged action drama about a rogue CIA agent who becomes an assassin, this is partly a character study of obsession and the onset of dementia. Often unfairly condemned for making bad movies (such as the Wicker Man remake, Vic Armstrong's Left Behind) and poorer career choices (not one - but two - Ghost Rider adventures!), Nicolas Cage delivers a stand-out performance in this off-beat spy-thriller. It's a great meaty role for the Hollywood star, whose familiar powerhouse style, as epitomised by Wild At Heart and Lord Of War, but immortalised ever since Vampire's Kiss, is all the more effective here, because his typically theatrical approach to screen acting is comparatively restrained. Cage has proved himself the consummate movie superstar, just as capable of helping to make Spike Jonze's Adaptation work at cinematic art, as he is of elevating broadly cliché-driven yet roundly likeable nonsense like Disney's National Treasure movies, and exercising a commendable restraint in David Green's more recent movie about a reformed redneck named Joe.

Dying Of The Light kicks off in stunning fashion with Cage on tremendous form as he gives a stirring recruitment speech, about having personal values in a troubled era, for both social democracy and/ or genuine patriotism, where government sleaze and moral failures in the prevailing culture have worn away all the decency of citizenship. Evan Lake (Cage) takes a trip overseas to Bucharest, following cryptic clues to find an Arab terrorist - one reportedly dead for over 20 years - who once tortured Lake, when he was a spy captured by extremists in Beirut. Lake is warned off by his CIA superiors and marginalised because of his mental health but, in the end, he doggedly tracks down his nemesis to Africa for a final, bloody confrontation.

Dying Of The Light is also a medical drama primarily concerned with terminal illness - including a rare blood disease, and the onset of dementia - that affects Lake, and his mortal enemy Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim). But Lake's mental problems, as hinted at in the movie's title, are barely framed as a potential metaphor for something that's wrong with our complacent society - a certain something that shatters all our hopes for a better future.

Despite its post-production difficulties, as writer-director Paul Schrader complained that studio bosses refused to allow him a final cut, this welcome release adds much to the existing cycle of movies about modern Arab terrorism, which properly began with Edward Zwick's The Siege (1998). While Zero Dark Thirty reigns supreme, so far, the differences between the similarly themed movies extend beyond their disparate plots and character arcs. There is also the question of whether this picture and its makers are wholly respectful, or actually sympathetic, towards religion?

Five Minarets In New York is one of the most overly sensitive to foreign beliefs, if not Islamic extremism. Although Dying Of The Light is obviously rather more concerned with revenge than redemption, it is also at pains to present a balanced compassionate portrait of the a foreign culture that America's institutionalised racism and paranoiac tendencies have demonised beyond all understanding. However, the failure of these movies to openly criticise all belief systems and, in doing so, take advantage of such opportunities (in the mass-media of popular cinema) to expose the basic hollowness of every form of religion - from Catholicism to the more obscure cults - still remains a fatal problem in assessing their value. All the pomp and grandeur that surrounds any religious ceremony, whether Christian or Muslim, as a human activity worth pursuing is made to seem culturally valid, in movies like this, and very important as part of life.

In the end, it falls to neglected TV science programmes such as the remake of Cosmos to talk about how no compelling argument exists for respecting belief, no matter how vast a community of believers. Even then, most educational voices of reason are only allowed to drop hints about the need to question everything that we are being taught by priests and gurus, and merely suggest the benefits to a secular society of rejecting all religions, while promoting the unpopular notion that the faithful are delusional or stupid for their unquestioning acceptance of scripture and church. As Sam Harris has noted: "Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious," and yet a refusal to even consider questioning the point of any religious practices in the 21st century appears locked in place.

When Robert Sussman's book The Myth Of Race (Harvard University Press, 2014), is dismissed as 'polemical' or 'passionate' - instead of being called scientific or accurate, it appears there is little to no hope of a New Enlightenment revolutionising cultures - both east and west - and getting rid of the foolishness of religion's fossilised thinking.

Dying Of The Light is due to be released on DVD, 3rd March 2015.

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