Netflix teams with debutant film director Grant Singer to bring to us a crime thriller titled Reptile starring a stellar cast of Justin Timberlake, Alicia Silverstone, Eric Bogosian, Ato Essandoh, Domenick Lombardozzi, Michael Pitt and Benicio Del Torro, who plays the lead and has co-written the screenplay. Singer’s film was part of this year’s film selection for the Toronto International Film Festival 2023 (TIFF).
The film is a dark gritty thriller of a dark web of lies that starts to shed its first skin when a brutal murder of a real estate agent in the neighbourhood of Scarborough takes place and puts the whole town on edge. The Scarborough Homicide Department follows a hot trail to hunt for the killer. A particular man stands out as a suspect after Detective Nichols spots him at the crime scene, leading to a series of events that turn the narrative around unexpectedly. With a certain dangerous edge, the film constantly sharpens the knife of its plot with the scheming behaviour of an existing underworld within the police force. But for the sake of the article, let us mention first it contains many spoilers. So, if you wish to continue to understand Singer’s thriller, by all means, have a go at it!
Plot Summary: One Killer from a Swamp Who Sheds His Skin to Find His Match in One Detective.
The Grady family run a real estate company that sells elite property and Summer Elswick, a real estate agent is deeply involved with Will Grady (portrayed by Justin Timberlake), the head of Sales within the company. Will Grady begins to shape his dialogue to sell his property with the full support of his mother, who with her son runs an elaborate scheme of laundering drug money deeply hidden in the form of property sales. However, this scheme is only revealed much later. While the ring leaders are of the most unexpected capacity, the world collapses on Summer Elswick’s conscience and penetrates her dreams. Signs of guilt begin to sink in after her commissions do not show on record. Omens of some kind linger on the property of Whitcomb, a newly acquired space that is unkempt and neglected.
When Will pitches a sale of the space, they find new people who are ready to come and inspect the space as potential buyers. But a certain dream alerts Summer that something is deeply wrong and she cannot go along in all good conscience. After explaining her dream to her friend who confirms that she could get caught soon, Summer starts to withdraw away from any public gatherings. Will[AR1] tries to ask about her absence at certain events. Somehow, she finds a way to get out of the situation. Will is still angry and remains passively aggressive. Suddenly, her days are numbered. One day, Summer messages him to come home. After signing the foreclosure of a space, Will rushes back home and steps into the house to find Summer brutally murdered on the floor of the bedroom on the top floor of the house.
Detective Tom Nichols (starring Benicio Del Torro) and his friends are at a gathering when his Captain gets a call about the murder. On the way to the scene, his Chief tells him that he is sick with MS. It is not as serious yet but it is there forever. They begin their rounds of door-to-door questioning. An odd man stands out from the opposite side of the road. The plot begins to thicken when a witness says she says she saw someone who had an odd limp and came to the house before Summer was murdered. Detective Nichols turns to find that the man he saw a minute ago, who might fit that description, is gone.
Who Is Detective Tom Nichols?
Tom Nichols is a slick, hardened cop from New England working with his partner Detective Dan Cleary (starring Ato Essandoh), who is still worried about marrying his partner after six years of committing to each other. The Scarborough Homicide Department consider them an elite pair of cops handling high-end cases using the most unusual methods. Nichols is married to his Captain’s niece, Judy (starring Alicia Silverstone), forming a power couple. Turmoil and harassment are not new to them with the kind of record that Nichols held being a stellar cop.
They always powered through and Nichols would occasionally bring work home to keep her abreast with everything that was happening. She was his definition of true North. Betrayal is the only thing that does not sit well with him. When the see-saw tilts below an acceptable level, he finds the seat on the other end to bring it back to where he wants it. But this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. His life as he knows it is about to change with the brutal murder of Summer Elswick.
When the investigation begins, Will Grady is interrogated. A normal procedure as the husband is always the first suspect as is in most cases. Will is deeply grief-stricken yet both detectives sense something is amiss. While Nichols questions him, Will admits to wanting to marry Summer, though technically he could not because she was still married to her ex-husband, a relationship that did not completely end. At the house, Nichols scans the kitchen and finds a tap sensitive to touch that he instantly is obsessed with. His passion for the luxurious things in life is still present while his kitchen undergoes renovation. (Yes, he does eventually buy one for himself.)
While Will Grady is the prime suspect, Will does his best to counter the detective’s suspicions of him and direct it at Eli Phillip’s presence at his house when Eli tries to return some mail but does not let Will shut the main door in his face. Doing their due diligence, both detectives show up at Phillip’s house warning him that any more unwarranted visits to the Grady’s house will result in an arrest. When the semen recovered from the body of Summer Elswick comes back as a positive match for Summer’s ex-husband, Sam Gifford – who sold heroin and coke, Detectives Cleary and Nichols turn up at his house to arrest him.
However, the arrest turns sour when Gifford makes a run for it with Cleary’s gun and shoots at them both and one of those bullets hits one of the kilos of coke. A gunfight ensues and Nichols’ bullets meet the back of Gifford’s right side. After falling out of the window, Gifford manages to make it to the shed on his property. He dies after hiding behind a wooden structure having bled out before any arrest is made. This brings the investigation to an abrupt halt and Nichols has to turn in his gun with his badge until he has been cleared of any wrongdoing to return to the Police base.
Reptile 2023 Ending, Explained: One Reptilian Detective’s Life Shedding Its First Skin to Discover a Hidden Smoking Gun.
After clearing his charge, the Force awards him a Medal of Valor for ‘saving Cleary’s life’. The local newspaper cites a headline that the murderer had been arrested and is dead with certain facts about the evidence missing from the article. Nichols understands that his Police force simply wants to wrap it up as soon as possible. However, Judy understands that her husband is not one to give up so easily and he lives up to that expectation.
Nichols chases a clue to figure out if Summer’s hands were bitten into when her hands were tied. This becomes a loose end that needs tying up. Somehow, luck turns around for him when the Grady’s office is broken into. While the Grady’s are trying to understand why someone would break into their office building, someone is creeping around Nichol’s backyard. Nichols drives back home in time to find Judy holding a gun having fired her first shot that has hit the pool. Eli Phillips is staring down the barrel of the gun in Judy’s hands. Nichols asks her to go inside after lowering the weapon and waits patiently with Eli Phillips, who tries to slip him some more information about Summer’s murder. Phillips leaves a pen drive behind. The Police arrest Phillips and Nichols uses the pendrive to find out what is really behind Summer’s murder.
When Detective Nichols starts to check the pen drive, he slowly starts looking at the document on the pen drive. Suddenly, a new path of investigation opens up and he starts sifting through an entity known as White Fish Forfeiture of which Summer was a broker. White Fish Forfeiture is a company that closely connects Will Grady and Wally Finn, Nichols’s colleague in the Narcotics Police Force who opened a new company called ‘Active Duty Security Consulting’.
One particular property connects them to the same P.O. Box. Wally would plant the drugs through anonymous people and seize the property and Will Grady would buy it. After which, Summer would come in as the broker, earning no money whatsoever even though there was a money trail on paper. She never even got a penny. Suddenly, Nichols feels an uneasiness. He does not know who and how many are involved. Who does he tell? Who does he confide in? As difficult as it may be, he keeps investigating under the radar.
They awarded him a medal. What they did not tell him is it comes with a hefty sum of hush money. It only meant he was getting closer to the truth. When Rudy Ruckoszy, a C.I for the Police Force, is suddenly sentenced to 15 years in jail with the same 13 kilos that they found at Sam Gifford’s house, Nichols had his confirmation that this web of lies exists and there is a drug-running operation within his Police Force. The smell of betrayal lurks. He is not happy about this and Judy is not safe anymore. His only worry is how many people are in the know. It’s time to fish them out. When he finds the Chrysler Imperial (the car found to pass the house on the CCTV Camera after the murder) with the same red Calcimine paint found on Summer’s body in his Captain’s garage, he loses sensation in his feet. Someone he has trusted his whole life and looked up to has turned into a monster. However, the captain quietly tries to shrug it off.
Tensions are building and it is possible Detective Nichols’ days are numbered. He meets with the Chief and hands in the pen drive and whatever he knows or has discovered after he alerts Judy to pack a bag to go somewhere else and lay low. Circumstances seem dire and Captain Allen, Judy’s uncle, calls Nichols asking to meet and talk at his house after a long weekend of celebrations for his birthday. The Chief and Nichols turn up at Allen’s house. The Captain pulls away to go to the bathroom and in that time, Allen warns Nichols softly to get out while he can.
Since they had the pen drive with all the evidence, they could now be disposed of. Nichols catches the Captain in the bathroom and shoots him dead after Allen is shot by Wally when he goes up the stairs. As Nichols turns, he finds himself caught in a Western Standoff with Wally, who is now on the ground floor in the living room, gun raised and aimed at him. Nichols is fast enough and shoots his target as does Wally. But Nichols wins the standoff to survive as he moves quickly into the bathroom. Wally is bleeding on the floor and the kids outside have heard the shots. Detective Nichols calls 911 and the film comes to a deadly close.