Dying of the Light

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Dying of the Light Movie Poster Image
Violent revenge thriller feels thin; language, drinking.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Mainly a revenge tale without hope, although a secondary character volunteers to help the main character with no expectation of reward. The movie is very pro-CIA.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are revenge-seekers, cynical, depressed. A younger character craves action and danger.

Violence

A character is held hostage and beaten in the face with a baseball bat. Guns are shown and fired. Blood. Ear sliced open. Car chase. Suicide from a bridge. Chase scenes. Throat slicing, with blood spurt. A shootout, with dead bodies and blood. Fighting. Knives. Eye gouging. A second suicide.

Sex

Characters kiss. References to Internet porn.

Language

"F--k" is used several times. Also "s--t," "a--hole," "ass," "goddamn," "damn," "Jesus" and "Jesus Christ" (as exclamations). "Ass" and "s--t" shown in subtitles.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character drinks several times: whiskey in a bar, sake at home, martini in restaurant. Another character takes his drink away when he's had too much. Smoking. Prescription pills shown.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dying of the Light is an international revenge thriller with a main character who's diagnosed with a form of dementia. There are bloody chases, fights with guns and knives, suicide, spurting blood, and dead bodies. Language is strong, with several uses of "f--k," "s--t," and "ass." The main character drinks frequently, overdoing it once or twice. He also smokes. Sex isn't an issue except for a kiss between adults and references to Internet porn. The movie is very pro-CIA and features a stirring speech about "the call" to join. It's directed by Paul Schrader, who claims that his director's cut was taken away, edited, and newly scored and mixed without his approval. What's left is mildly interesting, but die-hard cinephiles may want to join Schrader in his silent protest against this truncated release.

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What's the story?

Evan Lake (Nicolas Cage) is a model CIA agent who's in charge of giving an inspirational speech to new recruits each year. But he's also obsessed with tracking down the terrorist (Alexander Karim) who held him hostage and deformed his ear 22 years earlier. Finally, a lead involving experimental medicine for the sick terrorist surfaces. To follow it, Evan and a junior agent (Anton Yelchin) prepare to travel to Romania and then to Kenya, with Evan posing as a doctor. Unfortunately, Evan has recently been diagnosed with an irreversible, fatal form of dementia, and he finds that his memories are slowly slipping away.

Is it any good?

This movie isn't exactly terrible, but it's also not particularly sharp or fresh. Filmmaker Paul Schrader, who wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and directed American Gigolo, seems to be struggling in today's movie industry. According to reports, his cut of DYING OF THE LIGHT was taken from him, and this version was heavily edited, scored, and mixed without his approval. What remains is not really worthy of a filmmaker of Schrader's reputation. 

Though his character's diagnosis involves irrational behavior, Cage's performance still comes across as a bit too unhinged. Yelchin is a nice compliment to him, but his role seems gratuitous. Many of the plot details feel like stretches of logic and the imagination, though many moments are quietly effective. Schrader's films are usually thoughtful examinations of obsession, and his rumored director's cut might have been great, but it's impossible to determine much from this released version.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Dying of the Light's violence. How does it make you feel? Is it shocking or disturbing? Is it thrilling or exciting? Do you think all of it is necessary to tell the story?

  • The main character is shown drinking fairly frequently. Does it seem like he's drinking too much? How can you tell? Are the consequenes realistic?

  • Why does the main character think so much about revenge? What does he eventually achieve? Is revenge ever a worthy goal?

  • How does the movie portray the CIA? What good things does it have to say about the agency? What bad things? Do you think it's trying to send a particular message about the agency?

Movie details

For kids who love thrills

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