If "Dying of the Light" becomes veteran writer-director Paul Schrader's last film — the "Taxi Driver" screenwriter recently announced he's devoting his energies to Web series — there will always be an asterisk next to it. That's because this spy thriller, starring Nicolas Cage as an embittered, dementia-suffering CIA veteran hunting down a terrorist (Alexander Karim) who eluded his grasp decades ago, was taken away from him in the editing room.
Schrader's name is still on the film, but it's hard to believe the choppy result reflects his vision, which has often in the past ("American Gigolo," "Mishima," "Light Sleeper," "Affliction") found stark poetry in male outsiders.
The title is, of course, literal verse, taken from Dylan Thomas, and in one sense, Cage's ferocious, enjoyably brusque turn reflects the actor's own "rage, rage against" the steep fade of his own indiscriminately handled career.
Cage's loop-di-loop performance, the movie's surviving asset, at least hints at the themes of institutional illness and mortal decline that must have fascinated Schrader. Anton Yelchin, as Cage's protégé, and Irene Jacob as an old flame, provide solid emotional support, too. But elsewhere, "Dying of the Light" is, regrettably, a routine espionage yarn, bluntly prosaic instead of filmmaker-poetic.
"Dying of the Light"
MPAA rating: R for violence, language.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
Playing: AMC Orange 30.