Flattery will get you anywhere, in a thriller. The whole genre is founded on subconscious bravado; the secret belief that, when faced with injustice, any Regular Joe could win a fight. “If I was mad enough…” you kid yourself. “If my loved ones were in danger…” you lie. The truth is: most of us couldn’t whip cream, let alone the “ass” of a man with a gun, who would most likely shoot you before you found your gumption. Thrillers understand that the audience is deluded; more Walter Mitty than John McClane. In a movie like The Cold Light of Day, the film-makers don’t even bother explaining how the civilian hero becomes Jason Bourne. He does so because he’s in a thriller. The rest is left to your cocky imagination.
Surprisingly, Bruce Willis gets killed about twenty minutes into this film. Newcomer Henry Cavill has scarcely had time to grapple with his daddy issues before daddy (Bruce) is dead. Henry had been expecting a family sailing holiday in Spain. Turns out, his old man was working for the CIA. Sigourney Weaver has Bruce whacked over some bit of business involving a briefcase. I must admit, I was never exactly clear what Bruce was up to before his death. But never mind that, because now Henry has to go on the run. Israeli intelligence has kidnapped his mom, his kid brother, and his kid brother’s girlfriend. The CIA has framed him for murder. Screw the tan! This summer, this tourist is going to get his revenge!
All of which is fine, of course, and perfectly justified under the circumstances, except that, unlike his opponents, Henry has no formal training in hand-to-hand combat, or small arms, or driving like a bat out of hell. He appears to be a pretty good swimmer, but I think it takes a bit more than that to cut it as a Navy SEAL. Lucky for Henry, he seems to have a knack for fighting, once he gets started. Despite being shot, beaten, and falling more than sixty feet onto stony ground, all he needs to do is grit his teeth, and his courage never falters. It’s left to Sigourney to point out he’s an “amateur” at killing. But even then, she only says so out of frustration, after Henry has put on a dazzling display of non-professional ass-kicking.
I wasn’t particularly bothered whether mom, kid brother and kid brother’s girlfriend got rescued, to be honest. It was another branch of our hero’s family tree that snagged my interest. Mid-way into The Cold Light of Day, we’re introduced to Verónica Echegui, a sort of Spanish Natalie Portman. Her character is related to Henry because she also calls Bruce Willis “dad”. Bigamy isn’t a word the movie is comfortable with, so Verónica doesn’t harp on about her origins. But it’s obvious that Bruce had been enjoying his work in Spain a little more than a monogamous American husband should have (Got that? Okay, now you can lower your eyebrow). Verónica stabs an assailant with a letter-opener, then decides to help Henry… in a fiery, reckless Mediterranean fashion. Mostly she’s there to make you picture Spain as the land of Penelope Cruz, where dark-haired crazy women drive Anglos mad with desire.
The director of the movie, Mabrouk El Mechri, deserves credit for his casting and his choice of cinematographer. The film looks slick even when it gets ludicrous, and so what if Henry Cavill is out-acted by his wardrobe? All the old pros have fun passing on the reins. Sigourney Weaver, in particular, brings a nice chilly sang froid to her role as the villain. She seems very comfortable shooting Spanish pedestrians, and I liked the way she didn’t get ruffled, even when Israeli commandos had her out-gunned. Bruce Willis was born laconic, and he dies laconic here too. What I really liked was the fact Colm Meaney shows up for about ten seconds at the end, presumably because he was on holiday near where they were filming.
For the record, unless you’ve been in a fight (and won) recently, you probably can’t handle yourself in a fight. A punch in the face – a real punch – hurts. So too does falling sixty feet onto stony ground. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got right on your side. Your skin and bones don’t have a concept of injustice. They only know pain and fear. In The Cold Light of Day, the callow hero finds out what most of us would like to discover: that he’s tough and resilient in a crisis. In reality, he’d be dead. A good thriller creates a plausible scenario for heroism, not a plausible protagonist. Jeopardy brings with it the know-how of how to prevail. All Henry has to do is look good. The rest is down to us, and whether we accept the charade.