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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Peter Bradshaw

Reptile review – Benicio Del Toro looms large in gruesomely ambitious noir

Mean and winding streets …  Benicio Del Toro in Reptile.
Mean and winding streets … Benicio Del Toro in Reptile. Photograph: Kyle Kaplan/Netflix

Grant Singer is an A-list music video director who is now making a tough, ambitious but flawed feature debut with a film he co-scripted with his producer-star Benicio Del Toro, alongside Benjamin Brewer. It’s a noir procedural thriller, with Del Toro as seasoned cop Tommy Nichols, noted for his stolid impassive professionalism, who has just taken up a new job in Maine. Tommy left his old station in Philadelphia under suspicion of having covered up for a corrupt partner; he is a guy respected in the ranks for his honesty, but also for his code of omerta loyalty to his fellow officers. Tommy is married to Judy (a nice performance from Alicia Silverstone) who is a supportive and worldly cop wife, whose relatives in this close-knit community helped Tommy get the job. Eric Bogosian plays the captain; Domenick Lombardozzi is a faintly sinister, knuckleheaded detective with a side-hustle security business, and Ato Essandoh is the rookie cop with whom Tommy is partnered.

Tommy gets along perfectly well with this new set of guys, with all their sexist and homophobic banter, but they are uneasy to see Tommy, a newcomer, leading the investigation into a sensationally gruesome murder. A woman working as a realtor (that is: an estate agent) was stabbed to death with horrifying ferocity in one of the houses she was showing. Prime suspect would appear to be this woman’s partner and fellow realtor Will Grady, played with intelligence and poise by Justin Timberlake; he may have discovered that she was cheating on him, but then the couple’s ruthless habit of buying up mortgage-foreclosure properties at knockdown prices could have earned them enemies elsewhere. Moreover, Will, in a rather Hitchcockian touch, has a close relationship with his formidable widowed mother Camille (Frances Fisher) whose late husband actually founded the property business.

So far, so intriguing. And Singer has a coolly assured way of directing some crosstown traffic of dry comedy into the narrative flow; Tommy is very fastidious about the way he wants his new house in the neighbourhood to look, and actually gets some kitchen design tips from the murder scene. Yet Tommy also has an intense streak of violent jealousy, which Del Toro projects with lethal force.

The knotty conspiracy is to be unravelled interestingly enough, but having waded our way through over two hours’ worth of murky criminal dealings, there is something unsatisfying in the way we are never explicitly given the moment-by-moment flashback truth about that horrendous initial slaughter, whose macabre psychopathic quality has been laid out in the autopsy room, and gestured at in the title. We will learn in whose interests the homicide was, and we can infer the individual culprit’s identity from clues in an early scene. But the lack of a clear, satisfyingly dramatic reveal smudges the ending; it’s as if Singer and his co-writers had lost interest in the gothic-horror aspect of the murder as a rational conspiracy emerges. Maybe successive script rewrites had buried the idea; but the bulky physical presence of Del Toro himself gives the film its momentum and force.

• Reptile is released on 29 September on Netflix.

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