I am a certified Justin Timberlake hater. Mine is strictly a Backstreet Boys household. N*STINK was clearly the shein version of BSB.
When my childhood queen Britney Spears dated Timberflake, I was devastated. Ideally she would’ve dated someone from BSB. I still couldn’t tolerate the man, but mother liked him, so whatever. I don’t think anyone was happier than me when they broke up. When he went on his wronged man tour, I didn’t care. Britney cheated on him? Good for her! Perhaps young Timberflake needed to peer into the looking glass and face the real villain. He repulsed me once more with the 2004 Superbowl scandal. Even at the tender age of 13, I knew Janet Jackson wasn’t to blame.
The man starred in Netflix’s Reptile this year. “Is he playing the reptile?” my sister asked.
Although she and I got a kick out of this headline, I do think Timberlake is fairly decent in the film. Actually the weakest acting is Alicia Silverstone’s. It is Benicio Del Toro who carries the entire project, which he also co-wrote.
Reptile reunited him with Silverstone, his costar in Excess Baggage (1987). They were both so adorable, with Benicio giving the typical heartthrobs of the era, the Dicaprios, Pitts and Depps, some real competition. It’s wild but not at all surprising that mainstream Hollywood didn’t share my vision.
I have a crush on young Benicio and old Benicio. He’s paunchy with a lined face and is officially a geezer now. He’s too old for me. I don’t care. When he accompanied his brother on a visit with Pope Francis, he said ‘
pope is hope.’ Not once, but twice. Jeez.
Putting aside my crush, I adore Benicio as an actor. The lack of traditional leading man roles have allowed him to flourish as a character actor. He has these tics that work so well in darkly comic moments. He is also Lee Marvin’s heir apparent. None of it is coincidence: they were both born on February 19th; same 6’2 height; their niche onscreen is the sadistic bad guy; and Lee also wanted to get the girl just once in his movies. But let’s be real, his leading lady in a romance would probably be a reptile. Still, I would’ve loved to see him in one, because he was capable of shedding the brute.
In Reptile, Benicio plays homicide detective Tom Nichols. A real estate agent was murdered in one of her for sale houses. The killer must be caught but beyond that, her demise merely sets the plot in motion. It’s a murky slow burn, as murky as Tom’s own past and the shadowy figures around him.
The film has gotten mixed reviews but there was something magnetic about it to me. The pace is languid, unhurried. It’s a bit like drifting in and out of sleep. It might be unfocused, but that lends it even more mystery.
Benicio is in his geezer element. In one scene, the rising score and the tracking shot of Tom at his computer build unease. The camera slowly pans to reveal his screen and it’s…a photo of a faucet. It’s one with a motion sensor; just wave your hand and the water turns on. It’s the same one in Will Grady’s kitchen. Will, played by Timberlake, is the victim’s fiance. Tom is just a weary man more concerned with his home remodeling project. Even a gruesome killing can’t distract him from the mundane.
Banging, pounding hammers and whirring drills fill the quiet of Tom’s house.
Will’s house is sleek and ultra modern in its sterile whiteness. Not much different from his sturdy, clean cut looks.
The house Summer was murdered in is empty, quiet, pristine. A couple posing as buyers have a photoshoot where her slain corpse lay. Will, a real estate agent himself, was showing them the house.
The day before Summer was killed, food skittered out from the cupboard she opened. The culprit was probably a rat, Will assumes. She also found a coil of snake skin moments before the murderer entered the house.
Possible suspect Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt) lives in an apartment as disheveled as he is, both inside and out. Summer’s creepy ex husband haunts a similar dingy space.
Eli tells Tom that they have the same birthday. He’s looked into Tom’s past, where his partner of six years faced drugs, gambling and bribery charges. His current partner Cleary was unaware.
“You didn’t know anything about it?” Eli taunts. “That sounds like a lie to me.” It very well could have been. Tom doesn’t look so innocent during this cross examination.
In the penultimate scene, children witness a murder, their faces pressed to the window. A clear glass in broad daylight. No longer murky, no more shadows or secrets, all is exposed and laid bare. Tom solves Summer’s murder, and learns the truth about those closest to him. Like the snake at the film’s beginning, they’ve all shed their skins.
Despite Reptile’s lukewarm reception, Benicio’s performance has been singled out. It’s one of measured restraint, tailor made for an older actor who started out a handsome youth with a chiseled face. Think William Holden aging out of his boyish good looks into a craggy face. Benicio has always had sunken eyes, but they exert a real hold in this film.
Reptile isn’t his first screenwriting credit and hopefully it won’t be the last. This performance also indicates he’s got many more exceptional ones we have yet to see.