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Reptile

Benicio Del Toro slinks and weaves through Grant Singer’s debut thriller “Reptile,” but the film struggles to develop a confident personality around him, ultimately coming apart at the seams. Clearly inspired by David Fincher’s meticulousness—Singer too is a music video vet and has worked with The Weeknd, Skrillex, Sam Smith, and many more—“Reptile” is overly mannered and precious with its details, but its biggest misstep is its failure to understand that procedurals need to get narratively tighter and not just more convoluted. Del Toro always brings it, and this is actually one of his more intriguing performances in a long time, but one consistently wishes that it was in a movie that knew what to do with it.

Will Grady (Justin Timberlake) is a Scarborough real estate mogul dating an agent named Summer (Matilda Lutz). They flip foreclosures on expensive homes in the area under the watchful eye of Will’s mom, Camille (Frances Fisher), and there seems to be some brewing tension in the relationship. One day, Will meets Summer at a house she’s showing and finds her brutally murdered.

The suspects line up quickly for Detective Tom Nichols (Del Toro) and his partner Dan Cleary (Ato Essandoh). First, Grady couldn’t be creepier—Timberlake leans way too hard into the slimy silver spoon kid background of the kind of dude who lines up a new girlfriend who looks a lot like his dead one almost immediately. Will is clearly into some shady shit, but he found the body, right? Or did he? Could it be Summer’s soon-to-be ex-husband Sam (Karl Glusman)? He, too, is sketched as a few cards short of a full deck, introduced on CCTV footage cutting a stranger’s hair so he can turn it into art. Yeah, he’s weird. That’s not it! The cavalcade of creeps on the suspect list also includes Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt), a guy whose dad got screwed on a Grady deal. Did he kill Summer to get revenge?

As if that trio of potential murderers isn’t enough, the script by Singer, Benjamin Brewer, and Del Toro himself fills out a massive cast with the people in Tom’s orbit, including his wife Judy (an effective Alicia Silverstone), who helps him work angles on the case in some of the film’s best scenes. She’s fearless and intellectually engaged in discussing the mystery. She knows and loves Captain Robert Allen (Eric Bogosian), Tom’s boss, who is introduced receiving an MS diagnosis. Yes, this is one of those scripts where everyone has an instantly identifiable trait that tries to take a traditional character just a bit left of center. It's all over-written, exaggerated stuff that only reminds you that you’re in a movie.

Of course, it’s perfectly fine to be aware of a writer's voice and director’s eye—no one would say someone like Fincher quietly observes—but the problems of “Reptile” comes down to style vs. vision. There’s plenty of style here, but it never feels like anything coheres into an actual vision. The great Mike Gioulakis (“It Follows,” “Split”) slides his camera through these imposing spaces, but to what end? Does it mean anything? The abundant style of “Reptile” is increasingly hollow as its overlong 134 minutes unfold. "Reptile" tries to hold onto too many things at once and lands none of them, leaving subplots unresolved and characters inconsistent.

And yet, there’s that performance in the center. Del Toro is so good here, capturing a man who has seen it all and just wants a peace that won’t come. He doesn’t overplay trauma or experience; he just allows those elements to influence his body language and the stares from those unforgettable eyes. It’s also a playful performance at times as Tom uses elements of his journey into real estate to influence his home remodel. There are some decent turns in the ensemble—Silverstone, Bogosian, Pitt—but Del Toro is on another level, existing in his own space. A space that belongs in a much better movie. 

This review was filed from the world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. "Reptile" will be on Netflix on October 6th.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Reptile movie poster

Reptile (2023)

Rated R

136 minutes

Cast

Benicio Del Toro as Tom Nichols

Justin Timberlake as Will Grady

Alicia Silverstone as Judy Nichols

Michael Pitt as Eli Phillips

Karl Glusman as Sam Gifford

Eric Bogosian as Captain Robert Allen

Frances Fisher as Camille Grady

Domenick Lombardozzi as Wally

Owen Teague as Rudi Rackozy

Matilda Lutz as Summer Elswick

Victor Rasuk as Officer Peralta

Sky Ferreira as Renee

Director

Writer (story by)

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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