Hither, thither and back

On the run: Henry Cavill in The Cold Light of Day.

On the run: Henry Cavill in The Cold Light of Day.

The Cold Light of Day has one of those titles that are such a cliché you forget it as soon as you’ve seen it. It means precisely nothing in the context of the movie, especially because so much of it happens at night or in places such as underground parking garages lit by artificial light.

The phrase presumably refers to a realisation made by one of the characters, possibly the one played by Henry Cavill. At the start of the movie we see his character, Will, joining his family for a yachting holiday along the Spanish coast, and there’s a lot of sentimental familial blather among them, but within a short time (about 15 minutes into the movie) he has to take on board some information that changes his, er, life, or at least the next few hours of his life — that his dad Martin (Bruce Willis) works for the CIA.

Sorry, was that a spoiler? Is anything a spoiler if it happens within the first 20 minutes of a movie? No, I don’t think so, but having spoiled that revelation for you let me go on to spoil a few more. Not only does dad Martin turn out to be a CIA agent, he’s also involved in some desperate skullduggery or counter-skullduggery that means the rest of the family gets kidnapped by some “terrorists” and Will then has to deal with this problem.

Sigourney Weaver is another CIA agent, one who may be trying to forestall the worst consequences of Willis’s actions and to get the family unkidnapped. Or, then again, she may be the key plotter against Willis, who of course is not a bad guy but a good guy, and she may in fact be the villainess. Such are the complications of movies that require narrative justification for the fact that there will be a lot of running around, shooting, hand-to-hand fighting, jumping off buildings and car chases through the streets of Madrid.

Eye candy
At least we get to see a fair amount of Madrid in the course of The Cold Light of Day, though some of it is naturally seen in the warm light of evening or in the nuit Americaine of deepest night. Luckily, Will is very fit, so he can run from the Plaça Mayor to the Parque del Retiro in the blink of an eye, providing great benefit for we armchair tourists. On the other hand, when he needs to get to the Puerto do Sol, about three blocks from the plaça, he has to take a bus. Mind you, by then the geography of the city has broken down into non-contiguous fragments, and doubtless Will has been deeply confused by all that running hither and thither.

He’s terribly fit, as I say, and even has some fighting skills. Possibly his dad inculcated such things, secretly, at an early age — for Will is not himself a CIA agent. He says he’s a “business consultant”, echoing his dad’s cover story, and this is a moment of what we might as well call pregnant irony.

We’re never told in the film what he really does for a living except make urgent phone calls. The publicity material, however, informs us that he is a Wall Street broker by trade, so that’s okay. They go to the gym a lot, don’t they, those brokers? They run, no?

In fact, it looks like Cavill has buffed up a bit since his lead role in The Immortals, which required him to spend some time without a shirt on, as befits a mythological age when people wandered about in loincloths for, oh, days at a time. He looks a bit chunkier and a bit hairier since he played Theseus, as we know because at precisely 11 minutes into the movie he has his shirt off and a few moments later is emerging from the sea like Venus in the ancient myth, or perhaps it’s like Ursula Andress in Dr No.

There’s much huffing and puffing about the McGuffin, a briefcase filled with secret weapons or whatnot, but the rest of the plot is decidedly thin and the sketchy script barely manages to join the dots. There are holes that are papered over only by moving swiftly along to the next shot of Will looking agonised, determined or angry, depending on the next plot development. If that fails, he runs.

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week. Read more from Shaun de Waal

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