From Oscar winner to action movie icon to meme generator, Nicolas Cage has always been one of the most interesting actors working today. Taking on the roles he finds interesting regardless of critical or financial acclaim, the one and only Nicolas Cage gives us so much to love.
What can I say about Nic Cage that hasn’t already been said, written, or even thought? How about the fact that he is the greatest actor of our time. That’s right, you heard me right and I can prove it easily. Compared to say, Leonardo DiCaprio, who is a fine actor, Nicolas Cage is always one thing: entertaining, which is the true purpose of an actor. And no matter what you say about Nic Cage, he is always that. Even other actors he’s worked with have sung his praises:
He’s the only actor since Marlon Brando that’s actually done anything new with the art of acting; he’s successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours.”Ethan Hawke, Reddit AMA
Don’t worry, this will not be a career retrospective, nor will it be a dissertation on his style of acting, the infamous ‘Nouveau Shamanic’ method. Instead, we’re going to focus on six movies from various stages of his career to show you exactly why we love Nicolas Cage.
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Wild At Heart (1990)
There are some who say that Nic Cage went full-on bat-shit crazy with the double release of Con Air (1997) and Face/Off (1997), but if you go back further to 1989’s Vampire’s Kiss or this underrated David Lynch gem, it’s easy to see that he’s always been a wild and crazy guy who is looking to push his craft to the limits and beyond.
Based on the 1989 novel by Barry Gifford, Wild At Heart tells the story of Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern), Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage), and their love for each other. What could be more perfect for an actor like Nicolas Cage than working with David Lynch on a movie that is the ultimate crazy-funny-surreal mashup of a road movie, The Wizard of Oz, and Elvis Presley? Which is exactly what Wild At Heart is. This is the movie that Cage himself has repeatedly said is where he learned to have fun:
“I asked him once on the set, I said, ‘David, is it okay if I have fun while making this movie?’ And David said, ‘Nickster, let me tell you something, buddy: it’s not only okay, it’s necessary!’”Nicolas Cage, Interview at the Roxy Theatre
And that sense of fun is obvious, the way his Sailor gyrates, sneers, leers, and croons at everyone in the movie is a joy. His Elvis impression reminds me of the star in the movie Jailhouse Rock, a young man heading towards dying young and leaving behind a pretty corpse. Everything about Cage’s performance is riveting: the hairstyle and snakeskin jacket mixed with the punk/metal/I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude is prime Cage. All with the bonus that you can tell he is having a blast playing Sailor Ripley.
From here, Nicolas Cage’s star continued to rise and his power to entertain grew more and more.
The Rock (1996)
One of two Michael Bay movies available from the Criterion Collection (yes, you read that right), 1996’s The Rock was the first action movie Cage made. Part of the reason for doing so was to work with the producing team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, as well as to prove that he could make a big blockbuster.
What we get is Cage flexing his muscles, working with a star like Sean Connery, who signed onto the movie only because he wanted to work with Cage, who the year before won the Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas (1995).
Cage’s character, Stanley Goodspeed, is the perfect mixture of quirky offbeat characters he was known for at the time and the one-liner spouting ass-kicker we all know and love today. One of the clearest additions to the character from Cage himself was having Goodspeed not swear, and in one memorable romantic scene, he starts talking about peach sorbet. Pure Nicolas Cage!
This is probably one of, if not my favourite, Nic Cage movie. After its release, he then made the incredible double feature of Con Air and Face/Off. For those expecting a section on those two amazing action movies, sorry to disappoint. The next movie on our list shows Cage in a very different mood.
The name Andrew Kevin Walker should be familiar to any film-fan; writer of movies such as 1995’s Seven, 1999’s Sleepy Hollow for Tim Burton, 2002’s Panic Room, and the 2010 remake of The Wolfman. In 1999, though, he wrote a script that was even darker than Seven. Diving into the underground world of pornography and the urban legend of snuff films, 8mm follows Cage’s private eye, Tom Welles, as he tries to uncover the killers of a missing girl.
Unlike the previous movies we’ve looked at, Joel Schumacher’s directing mixed with the script’s topic makes Cage play an understated and real person who is thrust into a dark world. There is no ‘Cage Rage’ except for one brutal scene that calls for a real emotional reaction.
This Nicolas Cage performance is one of the most serious he has ever given and if invited to play in a straight horror movie, or even as a serial killer, I believe that he’d bring the gold.
The second movie to garner him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, the Charlie Kaufman written and Spike Jonze directed reflection on creativity, is at once hilarious, poignant and quite awkward to watch, with a brilliant acrobatic performance from Cage as the brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman.
What started as a frustrated response Kaufman had while trying to adapt Susan Orlean’s novel The Orchid Thief, Adaptation resulted from battling with the thing all writers, whether fiction or nonfiction, fear the most: Writer’s Block. But as we all know, from our struggles greatness comes, and Charlie Kaufman is the king of this.
“The idea of how to write the film didn’t come to me until quite late. It was the only idea I had, I liked it, and I knew there was no way it would be approved if I pitched it. So I just wrote it and never told the people I was writing it for. I only told Spike Jonze, as we were making ‘John Malkovich’ and he saw how frustrated I was. Had he said I was crazy, I don’t know what I would have done.”Charlie Kaufman, Toronto Press junket 2002.
“What about Cage?” I hear you ask the screen. Well, consider these two elements; 1) Spike Jonze directed this, and 2) it’s from the writer of Being John Malkovich, so naturally his performance is amazing!
As Charlie Kaufman the character, Cage plays a miserable man who struggles with almost every single emotional problem a creative person can suffer from. He is constantly rigid, unable to relax in any situation and his hunched over stance and rapid eye movements makes us believe that this is an actual person just like you or me.
Meanwhile, Charlie’s twin brother (who was included in the screenplay as co-author) is the complete opposite: easy-going, amiable, talkative, and not at all interested in ‘high art.’ Everything Charlie wants to be. And the way Cage plays him is incredible.
Watch any scene with the two brothers and you instantly forget that it is the same actor. The way they talk and react to what is being said really solidifies that they are two completely separate identities. The acting on display is top-notch and the way each moment is shot and played out, one forgets it is just one actor.
Unfortunately, Nic Cage lost the Oscar to Adrien Brody who won for The Pianist that year, and that’s the tragedy of this role. Because of this, we might never get another performance from Cage of this calibre… Or maybe he’s just waiting to pull it out and wow us all over once again.
Lord of War (2005)
Three years later, Andrew Niccol recruited Cage to play an Ukranian Arms Dealer. Lord of War is, in my opinion, an unsung Cage classic where, once again, Cage goes for an understated, more naturalistic style of performance. And it certainly works here.
Most people say that Cage always plays the same over the top and unbelievable character, but just look at 8mm, Adaptation, and Lord of War. Here his charm as Yuri Orlov is palpable and throughout his many voice-overs, we are more and more enticed by and complacent with the vile business of international arms-dealing.
For me, this performance seems more like a parent telling a fairy-tale to a child, and Cage plays the role of a businessman who never gets his hands dirty to perfection. He isn’t cold or calculating like his rival Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm), instead he is warm and highly intelligent, able to outmaneuver Interpol and the lead agent played by Ethan Hawke.
If you haven’t seen Lord of War yet, do yourself a favour and watch it right now!
Throughout his career, Nicolas Cage has experienced many renaissances and comebacks. The first was with 2010’s Kick-Ass as Big Daddy. Many said this would be the beginning of a new era in the actor’s career. But, as with all things related to Cage’s career, it was to his schedule and no-one else’s.
What followed were some of my favorite movies of his, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2011), Drive Angry (2011), The Croods (2013), Joe (2013), Dog Eat Dog (2016), and Mom and Dad (207). For many, these types of films are not the best material for an actor, but if we haven’t learned anything about Nic Cage, it is this: he makes the movies he wants to make.
Which brings us to 2018 and the movie that everyone agrees is his finest work in… well, forever. Panos Cosmatos’ 2018 fever dream of a movie, Mandy is a psychedelic ride with metal imagery and both feet firmly set in the 1980s. The first time I saw Mandy, the visuals were all that I could focus on, with the colour palette being my talking point. But upon further viewing, the acting on display took center stage.
Linus Roache as the villain, a Charles Manson-inspired cult leader named Jeremiah Sand, conveys a plethora of emotions: longing to belong, frightened vulnerability like a child, the rage of a lunatic, and the concrete belief of a zealot. Many have said, including Cage and Cosmatos, that originally Sand was written for Cage himself. But upon reading the script, Cage was immediately drawn instead to the role of hero Red Miller.
“Red was a character that I, I wanted to portray because I felt, I do have the power of imagination, but I also thought I had the life experience to play Red, having been through love and loss and going through, you know, what was gonna be my third divorce, and also my father had passed away, and that really stuck with me, and so I knew I had the emotional content to play Red because Red is really a being whose contending with loss, loss of love, and it’s interesting because if you look at Panos’ notes about the picture, he was contending with the same thing, not in terms of romantic love, but more in terms of familial love and loss.”Nicolas Cage, GQ interview 2018
And what we get is probably the most emotionally raw performance of Cage’s career. Not once do we see the theatrics with which he usually engages, instead it’s just a man who is hurting and trying to deal with the loss of his love. Two scenes from Many that have always stood out to me include: 1) his bathroom death metal screaming; and 2) when he meets with Carruthers (Bill Duke). These are Cage at his most vulnerable, and the entire movie is his ultimate showcase.
Let us not forget the final smile that is forever ingrained in cinematic history. Pure Cage! And if all the above hasn’t convinced you as to why we here at Something Ghoulish love Nicolas Cage, then check out this video of him doing a live reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Enjoy!