Sometimes a great performance is enough to throw you into a half-baked script. In the dark thriller “Reptile” on Netflix, a police detective played by Benicio Del Toro tries to solve the brutal murder of a real estate agent, and del Toro single-handedly keeps the film afloat. There’s some irony in this, since he also shares screenwriting credit with director Grant Singer and Benjamin Brewer. Del Toro’s instincts as an actor are second to none; He has the kind of face that can evoke hundreds of emotions rippling beneath the surface: caution, wariness, anger, disappointment, weary resignation, obvious love for his wife. A little more shaky.
We know very little about the victim who was stabbed to death while alone in the house he showed. Detective Tom Nichols (Del Toro) and his boss (Eric Bogosian), who is also his wife’s uncle, arrive at the scene. Bogosian’s all-seeing police chief says, “Get these people across the street and no press, I don’t want anyone talking to them.” He turns to an officer: “What did we find?” We have a dead real estate agent, the answer comes. This is not a very impressive dialogue.
The woman was young and beautiful; He had a tattoo along his spine that resembled a bicycle tread. This detail is introduced and later abandoned throughout the film; this includes the shed snake skin he found in the house hours before his death, or the cut on Tom’s hand that was considered a great omen but turned out to be an unexplained cut. to cut.
The suspects are: The victim’s boyfriend, who is also a real estate agent, played by Justin Timberlake as a sly but suave handsome guy with mommy issues. Also present is the victim’s ex-husband, who appears to still be in the photo. We learn next to nothing about him, either, other than the fact that he creates ill-judged art projects that feature hair illegally cut from the heads of unsuspecting women. Or maybe the killer is the legitimately disgruntled weirdo, played by Michael Pitt, whose family was robbed in a land deal.
Tom and his colleagues at the police department work diligently on the case, and the comfortable family atmosphere they share is about as comfortable as it gets, until it’s not. Tom isn’t sure who to trust except his devoted wife, Judy (Alicia Silverstone). She helps him solve clues on the case, but later even Tom gives her the side eye when he thinks she’s being a little too friendly with the contractor who’s redoing her kitchen. (Tom notices a touchless faucet in one of the suspect’s homes and is inspired to buy one for his own home renovation, one of the few ironic details that actually works).
Director Singer evokes the right kind of gloomy, noir mood – ominous and tension-filled, cloudy skies – but the film only makes an impact when the camera focuses on Del Toro’s gorgeous visage. There are some interesting and unexplored class issues at play; The richness of Timberlake’s character contrasted with the more working-class personalities of the cops investigating him. So how does Tom’s boss/uncle afford such a beautiful house by the sea? Del Toro and Silverstone make a dish out of what tends to be the pro forma side of such thrillers: the devoted wife at home. Other moments feel ginned up. While looking at the victim’s house, Tom opens a medicine cabinet and suddenly Timberlake appears in the reflection in the mirror. It is played to scare, but why? We already knew it was there.
The moment lacks substance, but Del Toro’s looming presence makes up for it time and time again, filled with moral dilemmas, heavy sighs, and a desire to just do the job at hand.
“Reptile” — 2 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: netflix
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.