The weird and wonderful films of Nicolas Cage

Adam Richmond

No matter how half-baked the film, how unknown the director, how badly it does at the box office, how curious the hairpiece, how shoddy the poster, the chaos of Nic Cage stands beyond judgement.

What ever happened to Nicolas Cage? His filmography post-2012 has plunged the depths of quality and offended the whims of fashion, with only the odd Christian apocalyptic moraliser (Left Behind) or wacky caper about capturing Osama Bin-Laden (Army of One) to divert him away from a growing list of dull action thrillers as clumsily bland as their titles (Vengeance: A Love Story, Seeking Justice, Rage). 

At first glance his current woes appear self-inflicted—he chooses the roles after all. But this is not a tale of his own making. Cage hasn’t changed one bit, he’s as big as ever; it’s the movie business that got small. 

 

His soul’s still dancing

Cage remains a cinematic icon, a towering talent with cheeks you want to pinch and a pearly-white crescent-moon-shaped smile that he can dial up from goofy all the way to maniacal. And he’s happy to play fast and loose with that status and what’s expected of him, as his upcoming film—a gleefully bad taste horror-comedy—amply demonstrates.

"While his peers scurry to board the next gogglebox binge-watch, Cage still dares to make films"

Mom & Dad (out March 9) is manic, blackly funny and while it doesn’t always convince, it’s daring where most mainstream films are inexcusably bland. Much of its success is down to gusto that Cage and co-star Selma Blair supply. Few actors could master the film’s tricky tone so winningly, and fewer "brand name" actors would even dare take on such a part.

While his peers (Travolta, McConaughey, Spacey, Kidman, Bacon, Berry... Kutcher) scurry to board the next gogglebox binge-watch, Cage still dares to make films. Sure, plenty of them are sub-par, but he keeps swinging and every now and then he lands a real sucker-punch.  

But then Cage has always bucked the norm, happy to flit between genres as long as the studio machine let him. He first tasted major critical acclaim in Leaving Las Vegas (1995) with a giddily haunting performance that deftly captures the desperation of an alcoholic intent on drinking himself to death. Taking a swerve from the highbrow, he dared to follow that up with not one, but three ludicrously plotted, bombastically directed action films (The Rock, Con Air, Face-Off).

It’s quite something that all three were such great fun, it’s something else entirely that they now stand as classics of the genre. The Rock in particular showcases Cage’s lack of ego as he embraces the overblown silliness of it all to play the nerdy, out-of-his-depth straight-man with exemplary wit and flair.  

His second taste of (near) glory, Adaptation (2002), saw him in the dual role of Charlie Kaufman and twin brother Donald. Cage embodies the film’s bone-dry humour and soul-aching sadness, and he gives a rare, quite magical performance in a very special film. The buzz off his Oscar nomination (the win went to Adrien Brody in The Pianist) yielded a con picture (Matchstick Men), biting satire (Lord of War) and melancholy comedy (The Weather Man). Largely ignored on release, they made the case that Cage couldn’t open those mid-budget $20m-$60m films—the very kind of risky non-franchise type films they don’t really make anymore. And what use is a star to Hollywood, unless they can secure boffo box-office? 

 

A star without power

The universally derided Wicker Man remake (2006) pretty much-sealed Cage’s current fate as a figure of fun and sapped any juice he might have to get interesting mid-budget films made. Lacking that, he can sit around and wait for directors who know their craft to come calling—at least we have Mandy from cult director Panos Cosmatos to look forward to on that count, the film is by all accounts as chaotic, gonzo and inventive as Cage is an actor. 


Mandy (2018) 

If Cage really wants to be welcomed back into Hollywood’s bosom, perhaps he should follow his faded, failing, flailing cohorts onto TV. After all, that’s where the smaller, more offbeat adult stories have migrated. But he's too rock 'n' roll to follow the herd this late in the day just for the whiff of some kudos. In the meantime, if the price of seeing Cage in oddball gems such as Mom & Dad, Dog Eat Dog and The Trust is the cluttering of his IMDb page with poorly executed paycheque B-movie drivel, so be it. Anyway, he’s too damn big for the small screen. 

Mom & Dad will be released nationwide on March 9