THE STORY – Following the brutal murder of a young real estate agent, a hardened detective attempts to uncover the truth in a case where nothing is as it seems, and, by doing so, dismantles the illusions in his own life.
THE CAST – Benicio del Toro, Alicia Silverstone, Justin Timberlake, Michael Pitt, Eric Bogosian & Domenick Lombardozzi
THE TEAM – Grant Singer (Director/Writer), Benicio del Toro & Benjamin Brewer (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 136 Minutes
What is it about a crime drama that has always engaged audiences? Is it the hunt for the killer or the brooding detective struggling to make sense of the case? Maybe it’s the setting that’s usually in some remote location that slowly encapsulates the audience. Either way, these films, which seem to be even more in abundance due to the rise of streaming, have become a popular mainstay even more now than ever. Now, director Grant Singer has decided to delve into this genre with his debut narrative feature film “Reptile.” Just like the cold-blooded class of animals the film’s named after, “Reptile” is a sluggish crime drama that might not win everyone over despite its admirable but familiar attempts.
“Reptile” follows Detective Tom Nichols (played by Benicio del Toro), who seems to have adjusted to his new life in Scarborough, Maine. He lives happily with his wife Judy (played by Alicia Silverstone) as they renovate their kitchen, go square dancing with friends, and overall enjoy the calm nature of the town. That, of course, all changes when a young real estate agent is murdered, and Detective Nichols begins to realize that this case leads to a conspiracy far bigger than he could have imagined.
Del Toro is undoubtedly the glue that keeps most of this film together. His character is everything you’d want in a film detective: he rocks a cool jacket, slicked-back hair and has a quietly intense demeanor that is instantly felt. As the film goes on and the case evolves, this gives room for del Toro to peel the layers back on who this man is. The calm facade slowly breaks away as the case gets closer to home and the new life he’s tried so desperately to build up for himself. The rest of the supporting ensemble doesn’t get as much to work with, which is a shame because there’s a solid gathering of actors here. Alicia Silverstone and Michael Pitt try their best to rise above the material, but it isn’t enough for either of them. Justin Timberlake (who plays the victim’s boyfriend) is one of the film’s weaker performances, which doesn’t help sell his essential role in the story. Eric Bogosian has an endearing screen presence that is interesting to watch evolve, but he also becomes a victim of typical genre plotting that doesn’t offer anything new.
On the technical side, “Reptile” is solidly crafted as a whole. The cinematography is quite deliberate, establishing an inherently dreadful ambiance that lingers throughout. It feels as if it was made somewhat in the vein of a David Fincher film like “Gone Girl,” but overall, it lacks the stylish trademarks or level of quality that makes Fincher’s films memorable. The editing, which could lead to the film dragging sometimes, is more patient than you’d expect. However, the film’s biggest issue lies in its screenplay, which is inherently a bore. The case is never as interesting as it is made out to be, and by the time you get to a major revelation in the third act, which gives Nichols a personal connection to the case, it feels too late. There are too many characters for the story to focus on without the aid of a miniseries’ worth of runtime. These characters are spread thin over a revolving door of storylines and threads that have to interweave for the case to make any sense to the viewer. There’s a storyline involving Michael Pitt’s character that is set up to have significant ramifications for the overall story, yet it never fully develops or leads to anything. There are also references to Detective Nichols’s past life as a detective before he came to Maine. Besides some expositional dumps from Judy and other characters about his past life, we never hear much else about it or see it for ourselves. Viewers won’t entirely get an idea of who Detective Nichols was before Maine because, throughout the whole film, he’s a traditional by-the-books cop.
Singer’s direction is solid, but nothing unique ever sticks out. The potential for him to develop as a filmmaker with future projects is there, but a screenplay like this doesn’t help a first-time narrative director in any way, shape, or form. There are some tense conversations and a shootout towards the end that is very engaging and leaves us wondering why the rest of the film couldn’t establish and maintain this momentum throughout the entire runtime. This is a little surprising since Singer has made some electric music videos before delving into creating feature films.
As a whole, “Reptile” comes off as just more of the same. This is another film in a long line of rapidly produced films made to be vaulted on some streaming platform. Instead of being something refreshing for this genre, it’s just an overly familiar replication of more popular works that have come before it, such as Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners.” It’s a shame because the premise, while familiar due to the nature of the genre, is still very interesting, especially with a genuine talent like del Toro front and center. “Reptile” isn’t a terrible film. There will be a specific crowd that enjoys it. There are just better offerings out there.