Reptile (film, 2023)
The movie Reptile has been sitting on my Netflix watchlist for the past few weeks. With Benicio Del Toro in the leading role, expectations were high that I would be in for a treat. After watching it today, I felt the flick succeeds more than it stumbles, resulting in a decent debut feature by Grant Singer.
The film wastes no time plunging us into its mystery, opening coldly on the gruesome discovery of murdered real estate agent Summer Elswick.
We're then introduced to Detective Tom Nichols, who will be tasked with unraveling this bloody case. The film establishes an effectively unsettling tone from these opening scenes that had me hooked. The crime scene and initial police questioning are captured with a simmering sense of unease, hinting at more disturbing depths below the surface. This tense atmosphere is further elevated by the moody score and slow fade-outs.
As Nichols begins to dig, it seems every character could potentially be a suspect. Will's alibi isn't totally airtight, Summer's ex-husband Sam may have motive from a bitter divorce, and oddball Eli Phillips clearly nurses a bizarre grudge. The screenplay smartly keeps you guessing as new clues simultaneously point towards and away from each possibility.
This uncertainty pulls the viewer deeper into trying to piece together what happened, which is the lynchpin of any great mystery. About halfway through, the film deviates from a straightforward whodunnit, instead pivoting towards unraveling tangled webs of corruption.
This is where the Reptile starts to stumble slightly for me. While introducing shady dealings involving drugs, money laundering, and police misconduct adds an extra dimension, it also succeeds more as a collection of engaging characters than a totally cohesive plot.
Some threads feel more like red herrings than essential ingredients (Frances Fisher's role could've been trimmed), and the big reveals aren't delivered with the punchiness of movies it emulates.
That said, what's presented is still engaging enough for patient viewers who don't need every minute detail spelled out. Singer keeps things intriguing through the layered characters and their morally ambiguous motives rather than stunning twists alone.
And what a cast he's assembled to bring these folks to life.
As usual, Benicio del Toro anchors the film with a lived-in, soulful performance. Detective Nichols feels worn yet determined, haunted by past mistakes but stubbornly seeking justice. Del Toro excels at conveying immense depth with subtlety.
Alicia Silverstone is also a welcome surprise, avoiding typecasting to play Nichols' wife, Judy, with cunning empathy. Justin Timberlake continues growing as an actor, navigating Will's grief and guilt in a nuanced portrayal.
While not totally seamless, Singer's direction impresses overall for a debut feature. He captures the rural atmosphere in a moody fashion, using the landscape as another unsettling character. Tight close-ups during intense scenes ratchet tension without relying on shock tactics. The pacing is a steady, slow burn that immerses you in this corrupt town. There's clearly passion and talent behind the lens that makes Reptile visually compelling throughout its 2-hour plus runtime.
For a crime drama subgenre that thrives on ambiguity and moral complexity more than straightforward resolutions, I appreciate how Reptile avoids tying everything up with a neat bow. There are still unanswered questions and cloudy motives lingering as the credits roll, much like the flawed characters within. This lends an organic feel over facile answers.
At the same time, while not a massive twist, the climax brings satisfying closure to Nichols' investigation in a hard-boiled fashion. Even with a few minor issues, Reptile tells a story in his unique voice that holds up against the classics, inspiring it.
Fans of slow-burn crime thrillers should give this Netflix film a chance to work its subtle hooks. Reptile proves a good addition for those seeking a murky tale of corruption in small-town America, reminiscent of works by David Lynch or the Coen Brothers.
I'll be keeping an eye out to see what Singer does next.