Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Nicolas Cage – From Mediocre Blockbusters To Indie Art House Darling

By Bianca Garner 

What movie immediately springs to mind when you hear the name, Nicolas Cage?

There are certainly many movies to pick from; Cage has starred in 118 films, after all. Maybe you immediately think of his 90s action flicks, such as “Con Air,” “Face/Off,” or “The Rock.” Perhaps you think of his more serious dramas, such as “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Bringing Out the Dead,” or “Adaptation?” Maybe the name Nicolas Cage makes you wince, and you immediately think of his over-the-top acting in such delightful films like “The Wicker Man,” “Mom and Dad,” or “Vampire’s Kiss”? Whichever film you think of, there’s certainly no denying the fact that Nicolas Cage has had one hell of a career.

Ever since bursting onto our screens way back in 1982 in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Cage has kept going. Despite starring in some real duds like “Left Behind,” “Dying of the Light,” and “Between Worlds” in recent years, Cage seems to be making the transition from painful action flicks to more indie art house pics such as “Mandy” and “Color Out of Space.” Now, Cage returns with his starring role in “Pig,” which currently has a 96% approval rating over at Rotten Tomatoes. Critics such as Oscar Goff from Boston Hassle have declared that this is “one of Cage’s best performances in ages and one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.” And Sheri Linden from Hollywood Reporter stated that “Cage’s contained performance embraces his character’s losses and his turning away from the world without the slightest play for sympathy.” 

I have always felt this strange connection with Nicolas Cage. There’s just something so enduring about him as an actor. I was drawn to him after watching “Con Air” at the very young age of eight years old, and since then, I’ve been slightly obsessed with him. No matter how bad the film is in terms of its direction, writing, or special effects, Cage makes it watchable, even if it’s simply for the fact that for 90 or so minutes, he’s been let loose to cause havoc. There’s something magnetic about Cage as an actor. He represents this desire in all of us to embrace our inner madness. As Scout Tafoya describes it, “We watch Nicolas Cage for all of these reasons and more. We watch Nicolas Cage because there is no one else who does what he does. He can vanish into a character; he can make a character vanish into him.”

Cage was born into Hollywood Royalty. He is, in fact, the nephew of legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola. He was drawn to acting because he appreciated James Dean. In his own words, “I started acting because I wanted to be James Dean. I saw him in Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden. Nothing affected me – no rock song, no classical music – the way Dean affected me in Eden. It blew my mind. I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.'” Cage’s unique style of acting also came about due to his father, August Coppola introducing him to the likes of German Expressionism. As Cage stated in an interview, “I was watching movies like The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, and Nosferatu and Fellini’s Juliet Of The Spirits when I was five years old. He had this little projector, and he’d play it in the house, and we’d all watch, and I’d have nightmares. Just nightmares. But then I grew to love it.”

Cage’s career took off in the 80s, with a few minor roles in the likes of “Rumble Fish,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” and became a leading man in the likes of “Moonstruck” and “Raising Arizona.” Despite the critical successes of these films, Cage shocked critics with his extraordinary turn in the sheer bizarre “Vampire’s Kiss.” This film proved to everyone that Cage was unpredictable and was willing to take on specific roles that other actors would avoid, like the plague. In terms of his acting style, Cage has stated that his style is known as “Nouveau Shamanic.” However, he doesn’t necessarily consider himself an actor, “I would rather be a performer than an actor. Acting to me implies lying. ‘He’s the greatest actor in the world is like saying, ‘He’s the greatest liar in the world.’ To perform, in my opinion, is more about emotion.”

The ’90s was Cage’s decade. In 1995 he starred in the critically acclaimed “Leaving Las Vegas,” which secured him the Best Actor Oscar and a Golden Globe. Cage then began starring in some of the ’90s’ most well-known and loved action films like Michael Bay’s “The Rock,” “Con Air,” and John Woo’s “Face/Off,” “8mm,” and “Gone in Sixty Seconds.” By the early 2000s, Cage was earning a hefty $20 million per picture, and for the first years of the early millennia, his career remained strong with roles in “Windtalkers,” “Adaptation” (for which he received another Oscar nomination), “National Treasure” and “Lord of War.”

So, where did it all start to go wrong? Like many of us, Cage isn’t exactly good when it comes to finances. He had numerous different properties, including the medieval castle Schloss Neidstein in the Oberpfalz region in Germany and “The LaLaurie House” in New Orleans (known as the most haunted house in America”). His spending didn’t stop just with luxury properties. He also purchased 22 automobiles, and the skull of a Tarbosaurus. As a result of his financial woes, Cage was reportedly “taking [film] roles left and right” in order to pay off his remaining debts.”

Because of this reason, we saw Cage go through a bit of a slump in the last decade. In 2006, we saw Cage starring in the appalling remake of “The Wicker Man,” which received terrible reviews, and saw Cage become an internet meme (“Not the bees!”). When asked in an interview about his thoughts regarding the negative reviews, Cage stated, “The issue with The Wicker Man is there’s a need by some folks in the media to think that we’re not in on the joke. But you don’t go around doing the things that character does – in a bear suit – and not know it’s absurd. It is absurd.” 

Aside from starring in the shocking “The Wicker Man,” this period also saw Cage star in dismal pictures like the Box Office failure “Bangkok Dangerous,” and direct to VOD films like “Rage,” “Pay the Ghost,” and “Dying of the Light.” Aside from his debt problems, it would seem that Cage struggles with some personal problems as well and needs to work to keep him occupied. In an interview with the Guardian, Cage gave this unique insight into why he seems to take every role offered to him. “If I don’t have somewhere to go in the morning and a job to do, it can be very self-destructive.”

During this period, there were some highlights in the form of “Kick-Ass,” “Joe,” and “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” proving that given the right material, Cage could still deliver an excellent performance. In recent years, Cage has still been starring in VOD action films, but he’s been receiving a lot more attention for his performances in art house pictures such as Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy,” “Mom and Dad” and “Color Out of Space.” There’s something about these independent pictures and filmmakers that Cage finds himself drawn to as he believes they allow him more opportunity. As he explained in a Forbes interview, “I came out of independently spirited movies, and I think that in many ways they are the pictures that have created the most original opportunities for me. The higher up you go in the scale of cost, the more difficult it is to make a movie that’s an original movie.”

Pig” has undoubtedly allowed Cage to expand his craft and skills in acting and performance. In Michael Sarnoski’s feature directorial debut Cage plays a truffle hunter in the Oregon wilderness who returns to his hometown of Portland to find his stolen pig. He’s clearly committed to this role as he’s had the training to learn how to cook French cuisine with the help of Chef Gabriel Rucker. Rucker spoke about his experience teaching the infamous Nic Cage, “He just jumped right in and was super respectful. He was himself: his voice and his mannerisms, I mean. He’s acting, but that’s also how he was.” 

Personally, I would love for Nicolas Cage to remain an indie darling, and I want to see him work alongside the filmmakers such as the Safdie Brothers or Robert Eggers at some point if he continues down this trend. However, whatever Cage does next (The Sundance film “Prisoners Of The Ghostland” is still set to come out later this year), I’m sure he will continue to be himself. As Rucker stated, “He’s just Nicolas f*cking Cage.” Amen, to that.

What is your favorite Nicolas Cage performance? Are you enjoying this new phase in his career? Have you seen “Pig” yet? If so, what did you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Bianca and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @ThefilmB

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