September 13, 2012

A Cold, Lightless Day That Never Ends

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Will Shaw looks worried: He’s trying to put the plot of his own movie together. He should have figured it out before. He says to his father, “Mom and Josh are gone. You’re CIA…and you don’t know where they are?” After watching The Cold Light of Day, I’m not surprised that he struggled with this material.

Movies are supposed to grab your attention but this one felt more like it was reaching out an invisible hand and holding me down in my seat. I couldn’t tell whether this movie was a headache or I just had a headache the whole time. The 93 minutes felt long and even claustrophobic. Words were hard to understand because the noise from the excessive crashes and gunshots was loud. Characters stumble from scene to scene, as if even they don’t understand the story they are populate. By the end, I was just so focused on getting out of the theater that I didn’t have the energy to call the movie bad. Sitting through this movie is stressful.

Will Shaw (Henry Cavill) is a normal business consultant going to Spain on vacation with his family. When terrorists kidnap his mother, brother and brother’s girlfriend, Will must return a briefcase that Will’s father (Bruce Willis) stole. In the process, he discovers his father’s secret job and faces a double (maybe triple) agent (Sigourney Weaver). Luckily for those already bored, this movie is not about following the plot or the lackluster characters. The plot seems like one writer started up where another writer got stuck. Will is supposed to be a regular guy. The director told Cavill to not be fit. In the fight scenes, he’s supposed to be fighting like you or I would: without any idea what he’s doing. For Will, this movie is about surviving.

If, as the tagline says, “Instinct is his greatest weapon,” then instinct is this movie’s only weapon. The idea of survival allows for a string of explosions, gunshots, chase scenes, scooter crashes, scrapes, nightclubs and scared faces that keeps the viewer so stressed that escape seems like a fantasy. While I hesitate to suggest this was intentional, the constant anxiety makes the viewer get as lost in the plot as the Will does. Like Will, the audience must survive this film.

Part of the appeal of action/thriller movies is intuiting what will happen next. What will happen to Bruce Willis? Who’s on his side? Who’s going to betray him? How will this all work out? Instead, I found myself playing the game of guess-which-character-was-on-Game-of-Thrones or wondering, “Why is Mercedes Benz branded on a Spanish public bus?”, “Is it ‘The Cold Night of Day’ or the ‘The Cold Light of Day’?” and “For that matter, what does that title have to do with the movie?” I never thought that I could care so little for characters and their fates yet want the relief of a happy ending so badly. I’ve never appreciated a happy ending so much in my life.

The Cold Light of Day isn’t the worst film in history. Some themes were interesting, like Will’s unremitting tension and how having an absent fatherly figure can negatively affect someone. Unlike a lot of characters in movies, Will’s character clearly goes through a transformation. There is a strong cast, with action movie god Bruce Willis as well as Henry Cavill, who will be Superman in Man of Steel next year.

But the problem with this movie is its laziness. Jean Carrack (Weaver), the double agent out to kill Will, laments during a chase scene, “I’m getting sick of this.” For a moment, I wondered whether this was Sigourney Weaver’s acting genius: she knows this movie is terrible and she’s giving the audience a metaphorical wink to assure us she’s really on our side. But then I paused for a minute and accepted that she and Willis probably just came along for a nice Spanish vacation and a check.

This movie is not enjoyable. Filmmaking should be about balancing reality and fiction, not creating chaos. We wouldn’t pay to watch footage of a real bomb going off. Had the director put more thought into where his priorities lie, he would have invested his money in a rollercoaster.

Original Author: Meredith Joyce