Film

Dying of the Light Is an Ambling, Creaky CIA Drama

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Even if you’ve never actually seen Nicolas Cage strapped to a chair, his face bloodied, his eyes rolling like those of a feisty but anguished bull as he fields the questions of a vicious interrogator, why do you feel you’ve seen it 1,000 times? You’ll see it for the 1,001st in Dying of the Light, in which Cage plays a battered and disillusioned CIA agent who, before being forced into retirement, makes one last lunge at finding and punishing the terrorist creep (Alexander Karim) who, years earlier, tortured him and — eww! — clipped off part of his right ear. (What’s left looks like a delicately ruffled skin-colored forest mushroom.)

Young sidekick Anton Yelchin hovers nearby, anxious to help, though he doesn’t have to do much: This is less a story about kicking ass — Cage’s nemesis is dying of a rare disease that has rendered him weak as a kitten — than about loyalty, honor, and hanging on to good old-fashioned decent values, or even indecent ones.

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.