There is one overwhelming question about THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY. Why isn’t this a better flick? It certainly has all the right elements. The cast, led by Henry Cavill and Sigourney Weaver, are solidly committed. The story is the kind that Hitchcock loved. An innocent man plunged into a life-and-death situation not of his own making where nothing is as seemed to have been, and from which there is no escape except playing along while trying to make sense of it all as the bullets fly. It is in this way that the film is at its most valuable, demonstrating that what Hitch did was not as easy as it looked.
Cavill is Will, the golden son of a distant father (Bruce Willis), loving mother (Caroline Goodall), and older sibling of a latently resentful brother (Raffi Gavron). On a family vacation on the coast of Spain, Will discovers that Dad (Bruce Willis), is not a government functionary working the dull side of international politics when the entire family, including his brother’s bikini-clad girlfriend (Emma Hamilton), disappears from the family boat after an particularly ugly argument. Will does the reasonable thing, which is to go to the local police. Of course, there is more going on than he ever suspected, and in short order he is on the run from the police, his own government, and the mysterious gunmen who have an unfortunate knack for always knowing where Will will be next.
The film has the good grace to dispose of the back story of family tensions with a few swift and painless scenes of exposition, moving along at a quick pace into the heart of Will’s dilemma. The plot is intricate, but never muddled so much as using misdirection to keep Will and the audience guessing about who is whom in this spy-vs.-spy tale full of the requisite twists, turns, and assorted surprises. Most of them come from Weaver, the disarmingly ambiguous, cool and competent American agent and longtime family friend at the center of the dispute over a missing briefcase.
It’s the turgid dialogue and curiously dull execution that trips up the cinematic effort. Rather than defining those twists and turns with sharp punctuation, director Mabrouk El Mechri turns them into gentle speed bumps, making the film mildly interesting rather than exhilarating. Not that there aren’t a few moments that are breathtaking. Dropping from great heights into an uncertain crowd of onlookers, an impromptu and improvised bout of medical attention, best of all, a car chase through crowded nighttime Madrid that stays just this side of fantasy, are more than diverting. Not enough, alas, to lift the rest of it into the dynamism it so sorely lacks.
And this is the frustrating part of THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY. Not, one suspects, the response for which it was going, but the one that is the most indelible.