Evan Lake (Nicolas Cage) is a C.I.A. agent who has been relegated to a desk job ever since he was tortured by a terrorist while in the field, leaving him with a disfigured ear and possible mental trauma he may have never come to terms with after all this time. His forte is delivering the recruitment speeches for the new admissions into the Agency's training programme, something he does with skill and passion, but he wishes he could do something more: he's a man of action, not somebody who should be stuck in an office day in day out. However, soon he will receive some unwelcome news about his health which will place his whole career in jeopardy, not to mention his mental outlook...
Although they had it as part of their contract that they were not allowed to complain about any aspect of the finished film when it was released lest they adversely harm its box office potential, the makers of Dying of the Light, who included star Cage, director Paul Schrader and producer Nicolas Winding Refn, made it pretty clear it had been taken out of their hands during post production and turned into a generic thriller that would not be out of place lurking in the straight to DVD section, or the lower reaches of the internet streaming service of your choice. Although by this stage in his career Cage was not so much of a surprise to appear in something like that, others involved still retained a certain artistic cachet.
Fair enough, Schrader's effort immediately previous to this had been the apparently cynical headline grab of The Canyons, but he had made bold choices in his work, and his screenwriting prowess in particular was well thought of. Refn too was coming off a flop with Only God Forgives, but his cult following was as fervent as ever, so what was it about this film that prompted the money men to lose all faith in these talents and decide to iron out any interesting creases that might have generated one of Schrader's provocative character studies? Nobody seemed one hundred percent sure, but it would appear they were expecting an action thriller and what they got was, well, one of those moody character-based dramas the director preferred to make.
Never mind that if the studio had left well alone they might have had a minor hit on their hands instead of a dud that hardly anyone was satisfied with, but by playing it safe what you had assuredly earned the disdain of its original creators who urged their fans, or anyone really, not to bother watching Dying of the Light. Even then it was difficult to make out what was supposed to be interesting about this in the first place, with such idiosyncrasies as Anton Yelchin's agent, the only friend in the Agency Evan has, coming across like a figment of his now vivid and damaged imagination, only to have other characters interacting with him so no point of interest there, then. What Lake has is a degenerative disease akin to dementia, but even so it doesn't affect him that much.
He might get the occasional shaky hand or blackout, but he's still the ageing he-man who now has a purpose in life, or what's left of it, when he realises his old nemesis, an Islamic terrorist, could still be alive and not dead as everyone thought. Surely this alert will energise the C.I.A. and he will be dispatched to bring this man down? But though he is correct, Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim) is indeed living on, he is in as physically poor health as Lake which offered an interesting perspective on a world where the West and the enemies of freedom or whatever you want to call them have fought one another to a standstill and will both wither and die at each other's throats as they both gasp for their last breaths. That would be an intriguing look at a global problem, yet in this version it's buried under bland visuals (cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth actually broke the no criticism embargo), tinny music, and anything that might indicate the slightest depth beyond cheerleading for the United States eliminated. Schrader and his allies were right: there was nothing to see here.