It took me several viewings before I realised Joaquin Phoenix was meant to be nineteen or so in Two Lovers (2008 – James Gray). And that’s after reading a whole book of interviews with James Gray (a well-thumbed copy is no doubt lovingly laid out on one table in his house. ‘It’s where I go for inspiration,’ says Jim, oblivious to the cynicism around him.) I just thought that Phoenix was experiencing a moment of arrested development, or that rents were high or something.
I say that, because there’s a moment in Lord of War where a forty-year-old Cage is playing a teenage Cage. And it doesn’t quite work; but at least it’s only in a scene or two, rather than THE WHOLE FUCKING MOVIE!
Lord of War, like the movies of James Gray, is set in part in Little Odessa. Equally to them, it is a paper-thin Scorsese knock-off; mainly a cover version of Goodfellas (1990). (James Gray would no doubt claim that he does not produce Scorsese knock-offs, but rather Visconti or Fellini knock-offs. I’m belittling Gray a bit too much here, given that I actually quite like his movies, but ruddy hell, the only remotely fun film on his favourite fifty (fifty) films of all time is Au Hasard Balthazar (1965 – Robert Bresson), a relentlessly bleak film about the miserable life of donkey Jesus.)
I’m not sure why Nic Cage needed to be in a Scorsese imitation, because he’d worked with the real deal (in the hazy, oppressive Bringing Out the Dead (1999)). Is his motivation that he really doesn’t like guns? But Cage, the eternal wanderer, the man who will never settle, does this film because he needs to move beyond Scorsese. Where Marty relies on imbuing his thoroughly dislikeable protagonists with a nobility and form of honour, Lord of War seeks to underline the true irresponsibility of the corrupt and selfish. There is only greed to these people; there is no consideration of others, and Nic Cage needs you to see that.
There are Scorsesian attempts to inflict pop music in moments of horror, but the music chosen is the favourite of every tedious university student seeking to show their artistic side – Jeff Buckley’s dirge-like cover of Hallelujah. (I imagine Buckley is on some Pacific island somewhere alongside Tupac and Eva Cassidy, living off the royalties from this song.) Like the movie itself, no matter the qualities of the piece of art, it only reminds you that someone more talented did it first, and they had Robert De Niro.
Nic Cage is playing it relatively straight here with only one or two glimpses into heightened, expressionistic acting. He seems sane, largely because he has been cast opposite everyone’s fifth favourite Joker… Jared Leto. Leto is an actor who likes the idea of being interesting but never quite convinces you that he doesn’t spend 90% of life masturbating over pictures of Lego. He is an anti-Cage, an actor who dulls the screen, and makes the most conventional choices possible. Here we learn that being an addict involves a bit of crying and a bit of over-enthusiastic dancing at weddings. You’re opposite Nic Cage, Jared Leto. You need to raise your game. He over-enthusiastically danced to Handel’s Messiah (I think Buckley’s planning to posthumously cover that one too). Sort it out, you try-hard.
Nicolas Cage Jukebox rankings:
- Lord of War