Thursday, June 13, 2024

“THE SURFER”

THE STORY – A man returns to the idyllic beach of his childhood to surf with his son, but is humiliated by a group of powerful locals and drawn into a conflict that rises with the punishing heat of the summer and pushes him right to his breaking point.

THE CAST – Nicolas Cage, Julian McMahon, Nic Cassim, Miranda Tapsell, Alexander Bertrand, Justin Rosniak, Rahel Romahn, Finn Little & Charlotte Maggi

THE TEAM –  Lorcan Finnegan (Director) & Thomas Martin (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes


We’re typically accustomed to seeing Nicolas Cage play over-the-top characters who go on a journey of revenge, especially in recent years. Never one to shy away from genre, whether it be on a big or small budget, Cage’s name brings more legitimacy to any project he’s working on now more than ever, thanks to the warm reception his performances have garnered lately. In “The Surfer,” Nicolas Cage plays the titular beach boy who wants to regain his childhood Australian beach house and his family. But, he finds himself trapped in not a revenge plot but an everlasting nightmare of sun-bleached lunacy washed in embarrassment and humiliation.

Some actors are gluttons for punishment, and Nicolas Cage is one of those actors. Whether it’s being stung to death by bees, the multiple tortures of “Mandy,” or his unspeakable fate in “Dog Eat Dog,” he’s an actor who regularly goes through the grinder, and this being Nicolas Cage, he does it over and over in the name of art. But perhaps Lorcan Finnegan’s new film “The Surfer is the most grueling of the lot to date as it pushes Cage (and, by extension, the audience) toward the brink of insanity.

Cage plays a nameless businessman – let’s call him the Surfer – on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His wife wants a divorce from him; he’s lost his son’s respect and has been showing up to meetings at his job with no socks or shoes. In what feels like a last-gasp attempt to turn his life around, he’s on the threshold of buying his childhood home, an expensive beachfront property that holds a particular sentimental value: a surf trip with his son during which he plans to reveal his surprise. However, it is scuppered by a bevy of alpha-male, roid-head surfers who insist on the rule: “Don’t live here; Don’t surf here. The ringleader Scally (Julian McMahon), is an Andrew-Tate-style guru who runs his group like something between the mafia, a Tony Robbins seminar, and a frat house. The local policeman (Justin Rosniak) is compromised, and a lurking hobo (Nicholas Cassim) suggests that the gang might be guilty of more serious crimes than bullying people off their surfing turf.

There comes a moment when it is apparent that the deal to close on the house won’t arrive, and the Surfer won’t surf or even get out of the car lot. Gradually, he is doomed to be deprived of everything he has. His shoes, his jacket, his phone, his car, maybe his dignity? Certainly, his sanity. There is such an obvious solution to his dilemma – just go – that his stubbornness seems contrived at first before becoming maddeningly admirable and finally heroic. “You have to suffer before you surf, Scally tells his testosterone-headed disciples, and boy, does the Surfer suffer. Bare feet and broken glass are the least of it and just as it can’t get any worse, invariably it does.

Which leads to the question, why? What has the Surfer done? He doesn’t have any scenes where he’s rude to a colleague or brushes off a beggar. The universe Finnegan has created is a comic one of cruel absurdity, a place where practically everyone is ready to punish the Surfer or howl with derisive laughter at his plight. But there is no sense that this punishment is connected to a crime or a sin. He’s not even an outsider, despite his American accent (which is barely explained). Is this all a delusion? Is it a nightmare or a Bardo vision? We hear voices telling him to wake up, but writer Thomas Martin thankfully doesn’t opt for the “get out of jail card of it all being a dream.

Nicolas Cage is hysterical as the male hysteric. The smooth naturalism and charisma of his first appearance – “I was hoping for a better reaction to my surfing as life metaphor, he tells his son – is gradually worn away to then be built back up to vertiginous levels of indifferences. There are moments awaiting gif-dom and line deliveries, which will have Cage fans cheering, such as “Eat the rat.” But the film’s length feels unnecessarily grueling, as its running time outstrips its conceit, and the denouement doesn’t make quite the promised big splash as one would hope.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Nicolas Cage in wonderfully fun, over the top form.

THE BAD - The film runs long for such a narrative and creative design.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Nicolas Cage in wonderfully fun, over the top form.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The film runs long for such a narrative and creative design.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"THE SURFER"