Grant Singer makes his feature-film debut directing the new mystery thriller Reptile. Now streaming on Netflix starring Benicio Del Toro as Tom Nichols, a veteran detective who is relatively new in town and assigned the case of a murdered real-estate agent with connections to Justin Timberlake’s Will Grady. A hotshot, and member of a powerful real estate family in the area. Now, on the outside Reptile would give the appearance of being a traditional cop thriller complete with a methodical pace, a typically broken protagonist, and a rich collection of potential suspects. That is what much of this film is. Yet there is a quirky undercurrent of dry humor that almost feels like a parody of the whodunnit subgenre.
For instance, Nichols being enamored with a kitchen faucet more than with the presence of a murder victim. A faucet the story will include again as Nichols shops for, and eventually has installed in his kitchen. Nichols’ wife Judy, played excellently by Alicia Silverstone, is knowledgeable of the law, the legal system, and there is almost playful banter between them as she helps her husband piece together the days’ worth of clues. It’s subtle but it almost detaches him emotionally from the case which is not usually the direction lead characters in these movies go. It doesn’t hinder the effectiveness of his work, or from the case eventually getting under his skin, but it’s an odd choice that does veer from the typically 100% serious cop thriller.
Now certain elements are needed when crafted a well-structured mystery and Reptile does bring a handful of them. First, Benicio Del Toro is impressive. He has a foreboding, understated tension looming over his performance. He has a seemingly checkered past that is alluded to during spots of dialogue and with his solemn mannerisms, there’s an impression it’s still weighing over him. He seems cautious, but confident, and the only time he appears visibly happy is when he’s with his wife so there are layers to this character under the surface.
More backdrop on his past however, other than quick doses of conversational dialogue where things are quickly referenced would have been much better for this film. Clearer foundations would’ve been nice because this character is ultimately at arm’s reach. He has a flashy swagger with his leather jacket, he’s supposed to be clean, but clearly can afford hundreds of dollars on a faucet for a kitchen they are already renovating. Where’s the money coming from? How good of a detective was he? There were a handful of small unanswered questions like these that I think undercut the ability to completely immerse yourself into the plot progression.
The supporting cast deliver strong performances to fill out the character list nicely. Although Timberlake does play his character a bit too on-the-nose and maybe oversells his persona a skosh too much. All of the characters, some more than others, have nuances that seed a thread of doubt in their facade, or in the least, have an element to them that raises potential suspicion about their involvement or intentions. Which does work well as the suspect list grows and your mind begins to work the given clues to predict the killer. One minute this character is the focus. The next scene another character begins to look like the real killer. So, for this aspect Reptile provides long stretches of engaging mystery.
The run-time is lengthy at 134 minutes but it’s relatively quick moving despite the methodical pace. The main hindrance however would be the most important part of a gritty whodunnit cop thriller and that would be the closing. It’s fine overall, and Reptile certainly isn’t a bad movie, but for a majority of it there this oddly appealing blend of tones with a story set in a normal world that seems just slightly…off. The spots of misdirection with certain characters, and small scenes leaving little teases, in the end, just feel like wasted time and not actual parts of the moving narrative. These are hindrances that purists of this genre may have issues with, but I think if you sit back and let this film take you on the ride of solving this case that the many moving pieces will keep you interested. It’s moody. It’s strangely humorous. But the commonplace finale is mentally underwhelming.
CAST: Benicio Del Toro, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Silverstone, Eric Bogosian, Domenick Lombardozzi, Michael Pitt, Karl Glusman, Ato Essandoh DIRECTOR: Grant Singer WRITER(S): Grant Singer, Benicio Del Toro, Benjamin Brewer DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes RATING: R (For language, violence and some nude images) YEAR: 2023 LANGUAGE: English GENRE: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis