Reptile is a ’90s-style police procedural thriller

Photo courtesy of Netflix
BY THE BOOK: As methodical police detective Tom Nichols (Benicio Del Toro) investigates the murder of a young real estate agent, he discovers a conspiracy, in Reptile, streaming on Netflix.

Music video director Grant Singer makes his feature film directorial debut with this stylish police procedural he wrote with Benjamin Brewer and star Benicio Del Toro about New England Detective Tom Nichols (Del Toro), who with the help of his wife, Judy (Alicia Silverstone), digs through layers of deceit to find the killer of young real estate agent Summer Elswick (Matilda Lutz). Was it the victim’s boyfriend, Will Grady (Justin Timberlake)? Was it Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt), a man wronged by Grady and his mother, Camille Grady (Frances Fisher)? Was it the victim’s estranged husband, Sam Gifford (Karl Glusman)? Was it drug smuggler Rudi Rackozy (Owen Teague)? Or is there much more to the case—something he’s missing that’s right under his nose? (134 min.) 

Glen: As this story unfolded, I was reminded of director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas’ steamy 1992 thriller Basic Instinct. Reptile isn’t as sleezy, but it uses the same whip-smart camera work and red herring-filled storyline to keep you guessing. Nichols has some skeletons in his closet from his previous big city assignment, but now in Scarborough, Maine, he’s found a new start and a new tribe: his partner, Dan Cleary (Ato Essandoh); his fellow detective and friend, Wally (Domenick Lombardozzi); police Chief Marty Graeber (Mike Pniewski); and his boss, Capt. Robert Allen (Eric Bogosian), who also happens to be his wife Judy’s uncle. They work and socialize together, and they’re like family. As he works the case, however, it threatens to dismantle his own life and relationships.

Anna: I’m a little surprised this film didn’t fare better with critics. It sits at a 42 percent critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it fared better with audiences with a 75 percent score. I personally found its broody, moody nature compelling. Timberlake plays Grady as a reserved, shaken man who seems to be willing to help the detectives however he can. On the other hand, Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt) is cagey and somewhat menacing, but is his hate for Grady reason enough to make him a murderer? There was a lot I didn’t see coming here, and Singer does an excellent job of pulling on those strings until the tension is palpable. Del Toro is one of those actors who instantly commands the screen, and his role as Nichols gives him room to move within the ever-growing spiderweb as the detective works to uncover the truth. I found this film hard to look away from; it had me hooked from the beginning.

Glen: Like Nichols’ investigative style, Reptile is methodical, and that arguably makes the story unfold in a somewhat plodding way, which may be why it’s got such a low critics rating. Personally, I found the film’s pacing a strength. I expected Del Toro to be terrific, but I was a little surprised at how good Silverstone was in her role. This film also reminds me a bit of Cop Land, James Mangold’s terrific 1997 film about cops living in suburbia where something sinister bubbles just below the surface. If you like thrillers and have Netflix, Reptile delivers.

Anna: I get what you mean about pacing. This may feel plodding to some, but for me it’s a slow burn—and I like it. I’ll take a film styled like this over a gutless action film that relies on CGI and an inordinate amount of fight scenes to keep the audience watching. The cast was well chosen and the story compelling. I encourage audiences to give it their full attention—something that can be hard to do with films watched on home screens. If you’re into police procedurals and don’t mind a slowly unfolding story, Reptile is right up your alley. The performances alone are well worth a watch. Del Toro, in particular, and Silverstone both work some magic.

New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Sun Screen. Comment at [email protected].

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