A while ago, when I still regularly posted movie reviews, I shared my thoughts on Sean Penn’s The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson as the obsessed cop who is on the trail of a child killer, whom everyone presumes dead. The Pledge is not a very good movie, mainly because it is made ponderous by some of its metaphysical posturing. In my view, The Pledge rarely strikes a balance between a portrait of a good man disintegrating because of an inhuman world and a survey of the evil entropy of that world—at least until the very last scene, which I won’t reveal here. Recently, I was able to watch The Cold Light of Day, the 1996 original by Rudolf van den Berg and starring Richard Grant.
The story is essentially the same. Victor Marek, the detective played by Grant, is called to investigate the slaying of a child. It’s a horrible scene and the child’s mother makes Marek promise to do justice by her little girl.
Incompetent colleagues railroad a suspect out of convenience and political aspirations and Marek quits in disgust. Of course, he’s still investigating the crime, but in his own crazy way. Marek deduces that the killer is using the highway. Thus, he sets up shop at a gas station so that he can monitor the travelers.
Seems to be a bit of a longshot. Fortunately, for Marek, he encounters Milena (Lynsey Baxter) and Anna Tatour (Perdita Weeks), a mother-daughter pair, whom he first invites to help him tend his home and then later develops feelings for.
Boyfriend-girlfriend for Milena; father-daughter toward Anna.
Don’t play. Y’all sick.
Anyway, Marek’s real motive is to use Anna as bait for the killer and then catch him in the act. Understandably, this does not go over well with Milena when she finds out.
Great news though: the killer has taken the bait and is about to run a scalpel across Anna’s throat in the woods.
Obviously, it is Marek’s poisonous obsession to catch the killer that is the dramatic engine of The Cold Light of Day, and Grant does an admirable job of playing Marek as someone just as creepily unhinged as the real killer. This is not to say that Nicholson didn’t do a good job. Rather, Grant embodies that dissolution of spirit that inflects obsession. In The Cold Light of Day, we are witness to the tall, skinny, sallow Grant as he slides through thins cracks in reason into something else.
My main issue with The Cold Light of Day is the ending. For all the talk of a saccharine American remakes, Penn’s version is much darker and more disturbing. The showdown between Marek and the Killer makes you feel dirty, but if you’ve seen The Pledge, you might understand why I felt a little let down by this confrontation.