Behind the enigmatic title Reptile hides a bit messy and slow-burning neo-noir murder mystery still worth watching. We will be following Detective Tom Nichols trying to find the killer of a beautiful young girl. His quest for answers will lead him to all kinds of characters. And to make things more complicated, any one or all of them could be the killer. During the first ten minutes, I kept thinking just how loose the storytelling was. Like I was watching a rough cut that still needs a lot of work. However, once the murder did take place, things started to look better and better. At least we had an anchor and we were in familiar, police procedural territory.
On top of that, we had Benicio Del Toro who was born to play these roles of brooding detectives determined to find their killers. Reptile is a movie you should play when you’re in the right mindset for it. It’s just engaging enough to keep you following the story but you should know there will be little action or tension here. I mean, this is a movie featuring a two-hour running time and during the first hour, nothing much happens. Only in the second half, and especially during the final third, do we get that juicy conflict. The finale was quite good although I wish they just went nuts and rolled with it.
I guess that’s just something that both me and Benicio dreamt about. It reminds me of another, similarly brooding yet imperfect movie, The Little Things, starring Denzel Washington. This is Grant Singer’s directorial debut, so I think we can give him a little slack. I think he tried to juggle too many subplots and characters causing some of them to inevitably fall flat on the ground. With better editing, more developed characters, and tighter storytelling, this would be a neo-noir masterpiece. It’s got that authenticity to it and the atmosphere was simply sublime, if you’re a fan of these types of movies.
If there’s something I like, it’s that dark and gritty atmosphere. It’s enhanced by an excellent score that saved that first part of the movie. You should also know that Reptile features a story that’s awfully similar to the very real murder of a young real estate agent Lindsay Buziak. As always, I recommend you check out what really happened only after you’ve seen the movie. Or you’re near the end, to avoid any spoilers. In real life, the murder of poor Lindsay remains unsolved as of December 2023. The camera is always pretty close to the actors giving off a personal and intense vibe.
However, it also makes the movie appear a bit cheaper than it really is. I’m saying this because I think that Reptile is a movie well worth your time despite its flaws. While Benicio definitely carried the movie, it was also a pleasure to see mature Alicia Silverstone playing a well-written character. The same goes for Michael Pitt whom you might remember from not just Boardwalk Empire but also The Dreamers. Now, when it comes to Justin Timberlake (yes, he’s in this movie), his performances are usually hit or miss. This one was a hit, just like the one in Alpha Dog, more than 17 years earlier.
One of the elements I loved the most about this movie, apart from the atmosphere, was the little things that have nothing to do with the main story. For example, Detective Nichols sees a fancy faucet in posh Timberlake’s mansion and wants to buy the same one for his house. These little details help so much with the immersion that you simply have to have them. The characters have to feel like they have lives outside the movie like life goes on for them.
Director: Grant Singer
Writers: Grant Singer, Benjamin Brewer, Benicio Del Toro
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Silverstone, Eric Bogosian, Michael Pitt, Ato Essandoh
Fun Facts: The title of the movie, Reptile, refers to the shifting nature of the characters. Each one of them subverts our initial expectations.