Monday, 16 May 2011

Guilty Filmic Pleasures #1 - Nic Cage

Nic Cage in Bath's Christmas Lights

I like Nic Cage – there I said it! Happy now? Yes, I know. I know but he has made some great films. In fact, he’s usually pretty good in awful films for that matter. I have just finished watching the truly dreadful Drive Angry. Possibly the worst film I have seen in the last ten years and I only finished watching it because of Nic Cage. Had it have been Pacino, De Niro or Cruise I would have switched it off at least an hour before the end. There are not many actors these days that summon that type of passion.

Nic Cage is a guilty pleasure – the filmic equivalent to eating a large box of maltesers in one sitting, enjoying hearing Barry Manilow sing or picking the raised bits of woodchip wallpaper.

The other great thing about The Cage is that you know what you will get before seeing it. All films work on slight variations on a theme – similar stories are offered twists through their choice of actors, settings or directors. To blame Nic Cage (or anyone for that matter) for not offering something new is like complaining that all cakes are full of calories – that’s the point – but you do know that going in! What you should do is openly accept both their good and bad points and enjoy both in equal measure. After all, you cannot split the calories from the cake so you may as well put up and shut up.

So, I like Nic Cage. No, he’s not the greatest actor but what he does do (which can’t be said of all actors) is that he genuinely seems to be enjoying himself up there on the screen. If he turned round to the camera, looked in the eye of every member in the audience, winked and said, “no, it’s not great but I have a tax bill to pay and, hey we’re having fun ain’t we?” I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

Of late, The Cage has routinely knocked out three films a year. All pretty much the same – similar stories, similar roles, only the setting, time and co-stars vary. And this isn’t a criticism, lots of the old school movie stars did the same – Bogart, Grant et all were all really good at being themselves. And no one does Nic Cage better than Nic Cage (though the guy on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was very good).

From the speeding and slowing of the voice, the incessant twitching of the arms (like he’s getting a new shirt to fit around the wrists) to the ever changing, always ridiculous, hairstyles. The Cage is a man for all seasons – an actor who positively revels in his shortcomings and one who, should the script and director be up to it, can be the best actor of his generation.

Yes, it’s true – The Cage can knock the ball out of the park when he needs to. Don’t believe me or feel it’s a fluke when he does? Have you seen Wild at Heart? It’s brilliant. I know David Lynch directed at – when he was at the top of his game but the entire film hangs on Cage’s performance and it’s one of his best. If you haven’t seen it for a while – just watch the opening scene and imagine it was the opening of National Treasure 3 and tell me Cage isn’t a great performer as well as actor.

More proof? Try Raising Arizona. The Coens’ were hot after Blood Simple and offered this screwball crime film (I am reluctant to cheapen it by using the word ‘caper’). True, it has the brilliant Holly Hunter and John Goodman to add weight but, again, it’s Cage who gives the film the heart and humour it needs. All Coens’ film lean heavily on the actors and here Cage delivers in great style. Ask yourself why their remake of The Ladykillers didn’t work – it was because they didn’t have the usual gang in it. Imagine it now with Goodman, Turturro, Buscemi and Cage and imagine how great it could have been. It’s a real shame that Cage never teamed up with the Coens again. But he did – once – and it’s great.

Of course, this leaves the argument open for you to argue that he may have been good once but lost it now. Which isn’t a bad accusation until you remember just how great he was in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation playing twins! He could have been twice as over the top but he offered performances of great subtlety wit and anxiety.

To bring the argument right up to date watch Werner Herzog’s remake of Bad Lieutenant where he combines the best twitching and screaming of his more commercial work with the depth of his greatest.
You’ve probably noticed I haven’t even mentioned Leaving Las Vegas and that won him an Oscar. Too easy you might say, he won it at the height of “play someone with an infliction and you’ll win something”. It’s nonsense – it’s a great performance and Nic Cage is a great actor.

For every Ghost Riding Johnny Blaze there’s a Yuri Orlov in Lord of War. For every remake of the Wicker Man there’s a Matchstick Men, Guarding Tess or Red Rock West.

So I ask is that you don’t judge Nic Cage too harshly – it’s not his fault – it’s our fault. Take to the streets and demand he gets the scripts and filmmakers he deserves. If you don’t take action right now, Bangkok Dangerous 2 could be just around the next corner.


  1. Excellent post Darren! I think there are many people that feel this way about Nic Cage, I know I'm one of them.
    (Love to hate him, hate to love him.)
    Adding Raising Arizona to my love film right now. Haven't seen that film in years and years, much due a re-visit.

  2. No Darren. No.
    He is bad in almost everything except for the Rock and Leaving Las Vegas.... but other actors could have played his roles just as well, if not better. Another member of the Coppola clan that gets to make movies cos of who he knows. Now, I agree when you say "my name is Darren and I like Sandra Bullock", because she is ace. Cage kills Ghost Rider...and that had Sam Elliot in. You should not be able to kill a movie with Sam Elliot in. There needs to be a law against it.