Cast: Will Shaw (Henry Cavill), Jean Carrack (Sigourney Weaver), Lucia (Verónica Echegui), Zahir (Roschdy Zem), Gorman (Joseph Mawle), Maximo (Óscar Jaenada), Laurie Shaw (Caroline Goodall), and Martin Shaw (Bruce Willis)
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Theatrical release: 09/07/2012 DVD Date: 01/29/2013
Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 93 minutes
Note(s): Original screenplay by Scott Wiper and John Petro.
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Review: I'm willing to concede there are plenty of films in which I don't quite follow what's going on. Sometimes it's intentional misdirection on the part of the director or screenwriter(s) in an effort to create an atmosphere of suspense; sometimes, however, it's just poor filmmaking, which I suspect is the case here. I think I couldn't follow the storyline because there really was no storyline to follow. Rather, this film is merely a sequence of scenes loosely connected by the most fragile thread of a plot: Henry Cavill's character looking for his missing family. (We know early on they've been kidnapped.) The reason behind their disappearance is never really made clear. (Something about a briefcase.) What subsequently happens is more about cause and effect, set-up and follow-through, than any attempt at a coherent story arc.
But let's start at the beginning, a family get-together for a sailing trip off the coast of Spain. A vacation, of sorts. Will Shaw (Henry Cavill) is a young entrepreneur, whose business has just failed. He really isn't interested in spending time with his family, and would rather be doing whatever he needs to do to save his company. Martin Shaw (Bruce Willis), Will's father, doesn't seem all that thrilled with Will being there, either. They're willing to make the effort, if only to please Will's mother. (Will's brother and his wife/fiancée are also present.) Anyway, after Will's inaction at the helm of the boat injures one of the party, Martin throws Will's phone overboard, requiring him to go into town at their next port of call. When he's finished shopping, the boat, which had been at anchor in the harbor, is missing. He finds it in an isolated cove down the coast with no one aboard. All things considered, not a bad way to start the film. But now the first of what will be many head-scratching scenes plays out. Will goes to the police, but instead of helping him, they try to turn him over to someone else. It's never explained why. Will escapes (of course) but soon crashes the car he fled in, allowing his pursuers to catch up. Out of nowhere, Martin shows up, dispatches all the bad guys, and saves his son. He explains to Will that he's really CIA, always has been, and that the rest of the family is being held hostage pending the return of a briefcase that Will took during a recent mission. The pair meet up with Will's colleague, Jean Carrack (Sigourney Weaver), who promptly arranges for Martin to be killed. (Yes, this is yet another "Bruce Willis film" in which the actor is prominently displayed on all the promotional materials, but who exits the film early with only about five minutes of screen time.) Will again escapes (of course) but not until retrieving his father's gun and cell phone.
The rest of the film is merely a series of chase scenes with the bad guys — and there are at least three sets of them — after Will.
With a better screenplay, The Cold Light of Day might not be the forgettable action thriller that it is. But even a poor script can often be doctored up to look good … though not in this case. The camera-work is just terrible. Long and slow panning shots (through a lens that oddly distorts the far left and right edges of the scene) are the norm here, and serve mostly to break up the action, resulting in a choppy feel to the film. There are lots of continuity problems, mostly having to do with cars crashing through anything and everything and yet emerging without a scratch on them. Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver, consummate professionals both, are fine in their roles, though it's clear neither one is fully invested in their respective characters. Henry Cavill, who is in nearly every scene, is the biggest surprise here: he's really not very good at all. I understand he's supposed to be overwhelmed by everything going on around him, and maybe his vacant, dazed look and awkward, wooden movement is his way of expressing that. His failure to engage the viewer in his predicament, though, and his overall lack of screen presence weaken further still an already weak film.
The Cold Light of Day is probably worth a rental but only the most devoted Bruce Willis and/or Sigourney Weaver fans will want to own a copy, if only to keep their collection(s) complete.