Toronto 2023 Review: REPTILE Slowly and Deliberately Sheds Its Neo-Noir Skin

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
Toronto 2023 Review: REPTILE Slowly and Deliberately Sheds Its Neo-Noir Skin
Finally, a pop crime procedural that leans into the frustration of dealing with real-estate agents and kitchen renovations. All jests aside (but seriously, the frustration is real) Grant Singer's debut film, a Netflix original, bucks the recent trend of the streaming service spitting out entertainment-by-algorithm. Reptile is quirky enough, fresh enough, take on the neo-noir whodunnit with deep cast. It has a thoroughbred of a lead, in the form of a mustachioed Benicio del Toro. Here giving a committed and nuanced performance as well, but not too well-dressed detective Tom Nicols, Del Toro is channeling that imposing Sicario energy without the geopolitical muck-raking, or assault rifle soldiering. Note that Reptile shares some of the that film’s producers.
At one point after questioning a witness, Tom takes a photo of their kitchen faucet. Later we see it being installed in his ongoing kitchen renovation. These moments, and there are serveral of them, certainly draw out the length of the film to more of a cruise than a sprint. It also adds a bit of a smaller stakes human seasoning to the tired, often austere television ‘murder of the week’ time-sink format. Even compared to the prestige and lengthier stuff it manages holds its own. I do not recall any scenes of cops line dancing in HBO’s True Detective.
A real estate agent (Matilda Lutz) is brutally murdered. We are not privy to the grisly murder which leaves a kitchen knife wedged into her pelvic bone, but see her husband (and business partner) Tom Grady, a sharply dressed but morose Justin Timberlake, discover the body in a empty home they were staging together. He is the chief witness and eventual suspect. The owner of the realty operation, and Tom’s mother, is a vamping Francis Fisher. She exudes guilty vibes at the outlook, while hovering in the background of the investigation. Then there is Michael Pitt, who is framed and introduced, visually, along the lines of the The Dark Knight’s Joker. He plays a shady conspiracy driven antisocial who was spurned by the Grady Real Estate firm in the past, and dons a police baseball cap when the detectives come over for questioning. The victim also had a creep of an ex-husband (Karl Glusman, who specialises in this sort of thing a la small parts in Nocturnal Animals or The Neon Demon) who creates dark art about of human hair in his dilapidated and isolated farmhouse. He appropriates the locks by surreptitiously cut off of unknowing people on public transit.
Far from a cheeky Knives Out, or Disney Poirot mystery, Reptile is a morally ambiguous character study of a talented cop trying to get out from under past investigation by moving to a sleepier, upper middle-class town. A small, but surprisingly meaty role for Alicia Silverstone as his domestic partner, offers more weight and care to the downtime side of detective life. In fact, the other cops on the force (more character actor goodness from the likes of Eric Bogosian, Ato Essandoh, Mike Pniewski, and Dominick Lombodarzzi) spend as much time socialising as on the job. I liked the deliberate tempo of all of this, even as it becomes clear that these non-expositional asides are building towards something. It also offers many opportunities for its gallery of great character actors do their thing in a sea of moneyed production design involving swanky restaurants, country dancehalls, and empty mansions. Note the cavalcade of expensive wrist watches shown much for character development than for the sake of filler. There is a noir-ish attitude that everyone is a crook, with a big or small angle. Even if it just to ‘milk the overtime.’ Chip Taylor’s Angel of the Morning is a constant soundtrack refrain.
For the past decade or so, Singer has been directing boutique music videos for The Weeknd, Lorde, and Sky Ferreira (the latter as a small cameo here) and it is clear that he wants to follow in the footsteps of David Fincher or Jonathan Glazer. Time will tell, but this is a solid and quite accessible first outing, a bit more Sexy Beast than Seven. There is a compositional wit here, combined with a denser than expected script, and sharp editing for such a languid pace. It all shakes up the procedural penchant of simply going from one interrogation to a moody stalk down a dark corridor with a gun unholstered, to an expositional flood. Reptile does has all of those things, but it makes a noticeable effort to remix the style without feeling too risqué or avant garde.

This is the kind of entertainment that expects enough of its audience to not allow them to fall too far into the familiar. The kind of film that is missing from the mainstream landscape, where everything is either an hype, or simply content. Reptile offers enough deceit, red herrings, needle drops, and superb character work to make it rise about the usual Netflix suspects. People should have a solid time with this debut feature, and I look what he will be moving up to next.
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Alicia SilverstoneAto EssandohBenicio Del ToroDomenick LombardozziEric BogosianFrances FisherGrant SingerJustin TimberlakeKarl GlusmanMatilda LutzMichael PittMike PniewskiOwen TeagueReptileSky FerreiraThad Luckinbill

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