The Nic Cage Jukebox 7: Left Behind (2014 – Vic Armstrong)

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Each week, one randomly selected film from Nicolas Cage’s career.  Hopefully we can begin to figure out exactly what he’s been up to all these years.

I used to think about the apocalypse every day.

Growing up in a religious household meant that the end of days was always on the tip of the tongue.  My mind couldn’t quite grasp the symbolism involved though; the promise of a new body led me to believe that my head, arms and legs would trot off to paradise to meet a new tummy, like some ecclesiastical Transformer.  My parents would promise me that the afterlife was bliss – endless conversations would be held over the topic of treasure (apparently god wasn’t talking about the same things as pirates).  And one day I was told that nobody would know when and where the world would end.

Now, I didn’t want the world to end.  I was barely getting used the world as it was, even if it didn’t for me extend that much further than the limits of Tunbridge Wells.  I realised that if I thought about the end of the world as much as possible, then I would always know the time and place, and therefore, according to god’s logic, the world could not end.

It became, as these things often do, a kind of silent obsession that dwelled within my mind.  Looking back, it was a deeply unhealthy thing for a child to think about, but then again, children are always obsessed with death, such is their habit of playing dead, their tongues hanging absurdly out of their mouths.

(Years later, I realised every generation has assumed they are in the end of days, including the one which wrote the Bible.  The failure of the world to end is one of the strongest evidences for the failure of religion.)

I don’t presume that these peculiarities are unique to a Christian upbringing.  Every childhood has its misconceptions.  But religions are particular subcultures.  They have their own languages and practices and entertainments.  Every now and then, some bro-dude on twitter will start laughing at the Christian film culture that exists in America.  And like most performative acts, it reveals more about the small-minded arrogance of the accuser than the accused.  Because, as much as I resent the indoctrination of my youth, I can’t escape the truth that the majority of people I encountered within that culture were some of the kindest, most generous people I have ever known.

So who cares if they have their bland, safe cinephilia?

(I mean, I care a little bit, because Nic Cage was in one of those films, and it popped up on the jukebox.  So I had to watch it, and it’s not very good.  And it curiously presents all the Christians in the film as pretty unappealing individuals, which is… odd… for an evangelistic film.  It’s nearly two hours long, and for huge swathes of it, it feels like you’ve accidently stumbled into an Alpha Course.)

So the question must be posed, if heaven is a paradise, with no pain or hurt or suffering, will it have Left Behind in it?

Nicolas Cage Jukebox rankings:

 

  1. Lord of War
  2. The Runner
  3. Rumble Fish
  4. Peggy Sue Got Married
  5. Windtalkers
  6. Left Behind
  7. Pay the Ghost

 

The Nic Cage Jukebox 6: Peggy Sue Got Married (1986 – Francis Ford Coppola)

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Each week, one randomly selected film from Nicolas Cage’s career.  Hopefully we can begin to figure out exactly what he’s been up to all these years.

 

I’ve recently finished reading Alec Baldwin’s autobiography Nevertheless.  It’s bitchy and vain and pages and pages of it are taken up score settling.  It’s everything you’d want it to be.  Highlights include, Baldwin telling us we’d be lucky if he ran for president of the United States, a whole paragraph talking about how difficult it is to be married to a much younger woman because she doesn’t understand his reference to subway tokens, and endless vitriol directed at Kim Basinger.  Everything about her is criticised… except her looks.  Baldwin can’t help but remind us that he was married to a very attractive woman.

But the pettiest hatred in the book is reserved for Harrison Ford.  See, Alec is still upset that Ford took the role of Jack Ryan from him… TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO!  (sidenote: does Ford feel the same way about Affleck?)  After two pages of deriding Ford for his lack of an Oscar, Baldwin comes up with this gem:

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I think it’s my favourite moment in literature.  What I love about it is Baldwin’s very specific criticism of Ford in that he has a slightly weedy voice.  Much was made in 30 Rock of Baldwin’s gravelly, demonstrative vocal presentation, but until this moment, I didn’t realise that this emphasis on clear diction came from Baldwin’s own neuroses.

What is it about the voice that makes or breaks an actor?  Tom Cruise rarely does anything beyond a mutter in his movies, and he’s the last star we’ll ever see.  Why can it seem so important in a medium that began in silence?

 

Occasionally, I have dreams that I’m back in secondary school.  And even in these fantasies, logic kicks in and reminds me that I have a degree, but despite this, my subconsciousness will come up for an explanation for why I am there.  And you know what… those dreams aren’t interesting.  They’re just the product of a nervous mind trying to process the trauma of youth.  Peggy Sue Got Married isn’t a very lively film, because despite what we’re sold, being young isn’t actually that fun.  We’re pretty ignorant and hormonal and have no money, and everyone looks down on us.  Something must be deeply wrong if anyone wanted to relive their teenage years.

But it does feature a brilliant, early performance of Nic Cage, where he performs with a heightened, nasal vocal pitch.  It’s completely out-of-sync with the rest of the cast, and is noticeably annoying them in some scenes.  And it’s kind of wonderful, because it firstly reminds us that an interesting performance is always better than a good one, and secondly, because seeing an actor actively trolling his colleagues is so entertaining.  I wish it would happen more often.

Nicolas Cage Jukebox rankings:

 

  1. Lord of War
  2. The Runner
  3. Rumble Fish
  4. Peggy Sue Got Married
  5. Windtalkers
  6. Pay the Ghost

 

The Nic Cage Jukebox 5: The Runner (2015 – Austin Stark)

Each week, one randomly selected film from Nicolas Cage’s career.  Hopefully we can begin to figure out exactly what he’s been up to all these years.

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The problem with Nic Cage is sifting through the garbage.  Not the actual films – for the most part, they actually seem pretty worthwhile – but sifting through the nonsense and caricatures and memes that surround this man’s career by this stage.  The opinion of him seems more prevalent than the reality of him; lightweight films, with nonsensical plots and exaggerated performances from our man Nic… usually featuring an appalling hairpiece.

But the reality is quite different.  Cage is fairly dedicated actor, who performs his roles with a level of realism.  The world acted surprised when Cage starred in Joe (2013 – David Gordon Green); many commented that this was a strangely naturalistic performance from Cage.  But delve a little deeper into the man’s career and you will see that this is a fairly common choice of performance he makes.  The stereotyped expectation seems to stem from the Bruckheimer films he has appeared in, performances that catapulted him into stardom.

He isn’t helped by the way that he is marketed.  Look at the DVD cover for The Runner:

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It gives the impression of a possible action movie, and failing that, a thriller.  There are explosions and a mean looking Cage walking determinedly towards the camera.  What is he looking at?  Some possible danger about to strike.

But The Runner isn’t even a thriller.  It’s a small-scale drama about a politician trying to rebuild his life after a fairly grotty sex-scandal.  It features an affecting, quite naturalistic central performance from Cage and typically strong supporting work from Sarah Paulson, Connie Nielsen and Peter Fonda.  It obviously brought a decent amount of work to the film industry of New Orleans (there’s a small article to be written about films set there since the implementation of tax breaks following Hurricane Katrina).  And it’s really quite good.  Cage is quite brilliant as a man trying to qualify his dignity; it doesn’t matter how old we are, we’re all still trying to figure out who we are, and cage embodies this struggle exceptionally well.

So how on Earth are we going to be able to get to the truth of Nic Cage when even the films he is in market him in such a misleading manner.  This is a very strong film about the events of the BP oil spill of 2010; one that is comfortable situated between the action adventure of Deepwater Horizon (2016 – Peter Berg) and the sanctimonious moralising Aaron Sorkin in the misbegotten first season of The Newsroom.  I feel that ‘under-appreciated’ is a term that will become pedestrian because it is so often applied to Cage, but it feels so appropriate here.  The Runner is a really terrific little film.

Nicolas Cage Jukebox rankings:

 

  1. Lord of War
  2. The Runner
  3. Rumble Fish
  4. Windtalkers
  5. Pay the Ghost

The Nic Cage Jukebox 4: Rumble Fish (1983 – Francis Ford Coppola)

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Each week, one randomly selected film from Nicolas Cage’s career.  Hopefully we can begin to figure out exactly what he’s been up to all these years.

 

 

It must frustrate Stewart Copeland immensely that all his soundtracks sound like the noodling parts of a late-nineties Sting album.  There’s a tendency to point to Sting as the most irritating member of The Police – but watch/read any interview from their mid-2000 reunion, and you will see that Copeland is the most obnoxious man on the planet.  He claims The Police were his band (on a technicality), but he wrote precisely one good song across their five albums – Miss Gradenko – and even that isn’t as good as Oh My God (sample lyric = ‘Hello mister brontosaurus, don’t you have a lesson for us?’)

The laziest assumptions are applied the career of Nic Cage.  They assume that he acts in an absurd number of films without regard for their quality.  He performs in a manner which gives little consideration of realistic human behaviour.  That he is a product of nepotism.  That his hair is outrageous.  These assumptions characterise the most banal of television comedy sketches an internet meme; but even a cursory overview of his co-stars in Rumble Fish will indicated that he is far from alone in any of these qualities.  We’ll rate six of his fellow actors out of five in the following categories to assess whether they are a more mem-worthy movie star than Nic Cage himself.  (I’m getting increasingly frustrated that I have to do this; the more Cage films I see, the more an engaging, charismatic figure he appears to be.)

 

Matt Dillon:

I’ll do anything:  3 – Dillon would be higher, but his issue doesn’t seem to be whether he’s in a lot of films, it’s more whether any films want him to be in them.  Things are drying up for Matt Dillon, he’s had to resort to television acting, and the poster for the one movie he has directed tries to sell the picture on the locations used, rather than any talent involved.

I am a realistic actor: 2 – Nope, again probably due to lack of talent, rather than any conscious effort.  Dillon’s range doesn’t extend much further than ‘bit of a douche’.

Nepotism: 2 – whilst Dillon isn’t the product of nepotism, he does lose marks for being responsible for the career of his brother.

Hairline: 0 – Matt Dillon has pretty fucking beautiful hair.

Mickey Rourke:

I’ll do anything: 5 – bad.  Blew all his early success, has appeared in more than one erotic thriller, a terrible Iron Man sequel, and managed to blow the career renaissance he experienced after the success of The Wrestler.

I am a realistic actor: 3 – Rourke reaches for naturalism through the age-old trick of ‘mumbling’.

Nepotism: 0 – nothing to say.

Hairline: 4 – pretty bad, due to his insistence of having hair that is always long and greasy.  And now, silver.

 

Diane Lane:

I’ll do anything: 3 – we can’t judge Lane too harshly, because of Hollywood’s inherent sexism, but she’s gotta lose points for appearing in John Cusack romantic comedies.  Some consideration was given to her appearance in an erotic thriller – but it’s one of the good ones (Unfaithful).

I am a realistic actor: 3 – Lane learnt to rely on her natural charm fairly early on, and hasn’t sought to push herself out of it.

Nepotism: 2 – her father had some background in acting, but she appears to have done everything she could to succeed on her own terms.

Hairline: 0 – Diane Lane has pretty fucking great hair.

Laurence Fishburne:

I’ll do anything: 4 – fairly high, as Fishburne has slipped into being an ‘elder statesman’ position, where he will pop up in any old trash to add a degree of gravitas to some genre nonsense.

I am a realistic actor:  4 – I think he was, but honestly, the memory of John Wick: Chapter 2 is fresh in my mind.

Nepotism:  0 – admirably, Fishburne has made his own way.

Hairline: 3 – I’m actually punishing him here, as I don’t think he has been brave enough in his hair choices.

Dennis Hopper:

I’ll do anything: 5 – now this is high.  Hopper would appear in any old shit – and that would extend to documentaries, video games, television work (he very nearly took a guest role on Doctor Who).  Hell, Wikipedia has him appearing in thirteen different projects in 2008.

I am a realistic actor:  5 – never realistic, always obsessive and nervy and a thoroughly disconcerting screen presence, Hopper never aspired to realism.  However, we don’t care, because his freakishness is so well employed in The Last Movie and Blue Velvet.

Nepotism: 0 – Hopper does seem to have made it on his own.  It’s strange, that America, which prides itself on being a meritocracy, is so reliant on nepotism for success.

Hairline: 4 – I mean, I’m pretty sure he was wearing a wig for the last decade or so – his hairline does seem to have mysteriously lowered in that time.

Sofia Coppola:

I’ll do anything: 2 – or, I’ll do anything my dad makes for a decade or so.  After that, I’ll go on to be one of the most exciting filmmakers of the new millennium.  So, swings and roundabouts.

I am a realistic actor:  3 – I really don’t think it’s fair to judge her as an actress; it’s not really her interest any more, and it’s the subject of so many cheap jokes that I don’t really want to add to the chatter.

Nepotism: 5 – I mean it’s high (obviously), but then she also made The Bling Ring, which is easily one of the greatest films ever made.

Hairline: 0 – Sofia Coppola has pretty fucking wonderful hair.

 

So, Nic Cage’s career is just as weird and desperate as any other.  Not everyone can be Daniel Day-Lewis after all.

Nicolas Cage Jukebox rankings:

 

  1. Lord of War
  2. Rumble Fish
  3. Windtalkers
  4. Pay the Ghost

The Nic Cage Jukebox 3: Pay the Ghost (2015 – Uli Edel)

Each week, one randomly selected film from Nicolas Cage’s career.  Hopefully we can begin to figure out exactly what he’s been up to all these years.

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There was a time when there were just bad films.  I mean, there were bad films that weren’t actually bad films, just hidden gems.  But the bad films were simply bad.  And now, with an astonishing level of phoniness, bad films have become ‘bad’ films.  The modern world is so drenched in insincerity, that bad films are there to be ‘enjoyed’ with a smug level of detachment that befits a generation indulged in the luxury of expressing their every thought, no matter how banal or moronic, into the social media sphere.  This level of irony is so prevalent, so unable to distinguish between actual levels of quality, that it makes attending a revival screening quite tense.  Seeing Body Double (1984 – Brian De Palma) in amidst the hipster elite of that London became almost nerve-wracking, so close did the audience come to laughing out loud at the romantic swirling and melodrama of De Palma’s camera.

Because this is a bad film.  It’s a film that ends on a shot of a terrible CGI vulture in some kind of half-arsed attempt at a twist ending.  The vulture has something to do with the eponymous ghost, but the predicament, and tension and plot of this film are extraordinarily ill-defined.  There are flittering moments when the film seems to shudder into life, such as when Nic Cage stumbles into what can only be described as a poundland recreation of the orgy in Eyes Wide Shut (1999 – Stanley Kubrick), but the film doesn’t even have the integrity to follow through (much like Tom Cruise…) and it turns out to be a red herring.

The most distracting thing is I became obsessed with the reality of your son suddenly coming back to life after having been missing for a year.  Just think of the gaps he’d have in school.  It would be impossible to ensure that child made progress.

The sickening thing is this film is simultaneously everything that people simplify Nic Cage films into and also nothing like these prejudices at all.  It’s both nonsensical and disposable and features Cage with some strangely distracting hair, but also he gives a performance of discreet dignity where the character’s love of Poe doesn’t dominate, and instead, he becomes a ghost himself, haunted by the loss of his son.  You can’t meme this film.  You can’t simplify and reduce it for a quick laugh.  His dedication and intelligence as an actor stand in bold defiance to the simple irony of the film culture he is appearing in.  He’s so capable, that he rises above the dross of a film like this.

Nicolas Cage Jukebox rankings:

 

  1. Lord of War
  2. Windtalkers
  3. Pay the Ghost

The Nic Cage Jukebox 2: Windtalkers (2002 – John Woo)

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Each week, one randomly selected film from Nicolas Cage’s career.  Hopefully we can begin to figure out exactly what he’s been up to all these years.

 

Dear John,

How are things?  I’ve seen the movie… and, well… it’s a bit self-conscious.  I know you won’t want to hear this, but here in the future, no one is even attempting a ‘hidden classic’ style piece on Windtalkers.  I tried.  I really tried, but I couldn’t do it, and I have managed to write several paragraphs on why Paycheck is actually quite good.  And that film stars the walking smirk of Ben Affleck.

One day we must sit down and work out where it all went wrong.  I mean, in the eighties, you’re the coolest director on the planet and a true iconoclast of action cinema.  You see the encroaching censorship heading to Hong Kong that will follow the repatriation of 1997, and flee, like so many have done before you, to America.  Where despite the many opportunities presented to you, you never quite seem to connect with the cinematic surroundings.  Your films are successful, but never stratospheric, and you begin working to the whims of others.  I find it hard to type this, but you end up making the fourth best Mission: Impossible movie, and honestly, I think I’m just being generous to you given my aversion of the cinematic non-entity of J. J. Abrams.

What’s worse is that you end up having to go and work in the same oppressive Chinese industry that you once sought to flee.

Oh well.  I was thinking, back during the Second World War (or The Great War II as I like to call it – don’t you think we’ve got less imaginative with our war naming recently?) many directors, including Johns Ford and Huston, went to work on the frontline.  What would happen if a similar conflict broke out now?  How would you fare if you, and your peers, were sent to fight for freedom, and justice and all those other concepts which don’t really seem to exist.  I think you’ve be alright, but honestly, I’m not sure many others would stand a chance.  Those guys seemed a little tough – they had eye-patches and cigars and shit – but nowadays, directors just seem to be white dudes in baseball caps.

For what it’s worth:

  • Peter Hyams – would talk the talk, but end up crying in a ditch somewhere. Same applies for Quentin Tarantino.
  • James Gray – would be the victim of some uttlerly deliberate friendly fire after he talked about the virtues of Amarcord once too often.
  • J. Abrams – would just try to copy a previous war, except this time recast the Nazis as Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • Joe Swanberg – would be useless, except if the world war turned out to be against film critics, in which case he would punch them out with ease.
  • David Fincher – would turn the gun on himself. But not before he told you what a shit you were and how it was all your fault.

I think I’d really only like to serve under James Cameron – that guy is an absolute loon!  That’s what you need in a war.

Anyway, I just don’t understand why you made Windtalkers so safe and why you didn’t allow a morally conflicted Nic Cage to fully let loose.  You just end up giving the impression that war is manageable, and I’m sure it’s not.

Write back soon,

Yours faithfully,

Tim

p.s. if I ask really nicely, will you direct a John Wick film for me…

Nicolas Cage Jukebox rankings:

 

  1. Lord of War
  2. Windtalkers

The Nic Cage Jukebox 1: Lord of War (2005 – Andrew Niccol)

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:

 

  1. Lord of War

The Last Days – Chapter VII – The Rock (1996 – Michael Bay)

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I saw the poster for this movie long before I saw the film itself.  Sitting for forty minutes on a bus each way to-and-from school ensured that the smallest change in the landscape became an event in and of itself.  Advertising was scrutinised from a distance whilst we waited for red lights to change.  Movie posters were the best… imagining what pleasure were in store once I could eventually see the film.  The cinema was, as it is now, a treat, and trailers and posters and articles in Empire magazine only built the anticipation and developed that treat.

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why Nicolas Cage’s name was above Sean Connery’s head though…

My dad’s favourite film is Sliding Doors (1998 – Peter Howitt).  I don’t know why, because he finds Gwyneth Paltrow as insufferable as the rest of us, but he adores it (I resist the inner arsehole in me that wants to tell him about Blind Chance (1987 – Krysztof Kiewslowski)).  Sometimes, our love of a film has nothing to do with the film itself, but rather the people we saw it with, childhood friends, first dates, our dads.  I wonder if this is the case for him.  I should ask him.

So much of the appeal of an action movie can come from sitting there beside your father whilst watching it.  It’s a kind of paternal imprimatur that defines a sense of masculinity.  Which is so unhelpful for anyone sitting outside the most basic definition of a man.  So many of these types of films are grounded in a pathetic conventional denotation, that the movie stars that exist outside this – for us this has most clearly been Keanu Reeves (others may find it in the nerdy, sexually-ambiguous determination of Tom Cruise) – that their mere presence on screen becomes something essential.  They stand in opposition to a preening, overwhelmingly narrow idea of gender roles, and move queerly within worlds defined by the most toxic causalities of the male ego, namely violence, both physical and sexual.

Nicolas Cage is one these essential movies stars.

***

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Nic Cage in The Rock (1996 – Michael Bay)

In recent years, Liam Neeson has become one of western action cinema’s cornerstones.  His shambling, lumbering, haunted frame looms onto our screens once or twice a year in some cheaply made vaguely European action thriller.  His move away from what is traditionally called ‘serious’ acting into a more pulpy genre has often been lazily presented as a reaction to the sudden death of his wife and the realisation that existence is meaningless.  It’s an attractive idea (and only really psychically manifests itself Joe Carnahan’s 2011 masterpiece The Grey) and one that speaks to an admission of purposeless existence that we are quick to deny ourselves.  But the casual sidesteps between action cinema and other less enjoyable forms of acting, have been made by numerous actors.  Sylvester Stallone, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, and Nic Cage, all have as many Oscar-bait pictures to their name as they do action flicks.  But Nic Cage stands apart from them as a unique screen presence and a pioneer of a new style of screen acting.

Rather simplistically, the first screen performers were often fighting against the technical limitations that surrounded them and were thus forced into a heightened, expressionistic style of performance – one that clearly held its roots in the theatre (I can’t be alone in finding every trip to the theatre profoundly embarrassing… It’s unbearable to know that the ridiculous, artificial acts on stage are being performed by an actual person.)  As sound entered the frame, and movies stopped moving, the dominant mode of performance was an unnaturalistic rapid-fire rattling of dialogue.  In the fifties, movie performance began to shift towards naturalism, which was often convincing, and often dull.  British actors rarely succumbed to the artificial stammering and bizarre speech-rhythms that even the laziest American television actor is capable of bringing to a part.  Across every decade, movie stars relied on the same bag of highly charismatic quirks and moments that they would bring to every part, whether they were playing a poet, priest or politician.

Alongside the movie stars, were the less attractive actors.  They played best friends.  And below them, the ordinary looking people.  They were (and are) by physical definition, known as character actors.  No less quirky than the stars, they just employed a slightly wider range of moments and tics across their roles.  By the eighties, a number of up-and-coming actors were trying to blend a movie star career with character actor performances.  Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp and Nic Cage can all clearly be lumped together in this sub-genre of acting.  But where Hanks and Deep provide clear demarcation between their ‘straight’ and ‘performance’ movies, Cage refused to do so.  He would often perform both within the same scene.

Cage is a singular screen presence.  He is magnetic and maniacal and entirely concerned with moments.  He has little interest in creating fully-rounded roles and instead ensures that he is as interesting and engaging as possible in every second he is on screen.  As such, his parts don’t often make sense – in The Rock alone he plays a violent, Beatle-loving, supposedly stream-of-conscious spouting chemical scientist, who sits in pants for no reason; one of these traits alone would be enough for most actors.  But because of this, he is never anything less than interesting.  He has an utter conviction to his performance that most screen actors lazily refuse to explore, such is their preciousness towards their ego.

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Nic Cage in Vampire’s Kiss (1989 – Robert Bierman)

Fairly early in his career, Cage played the part of a literary agent (one of those jobs people only have in movies – Jeremy Piven’s ‘obituary writer’ in Serendipity (2001 – Peter Chelsom) is a personal favourite) in Vampire’s Kiss (1989 – Robert Bierman) who begins to lose his sanity.  An insanity that manifests itself in his character’s conviction that he has become a vampire.  A sister-piece to writer Joseph Minion’s After Hours (1985 – Martin Scorsese), it is the story of an ordinary man drowning in bizarre, only slightly-off key characters and situations that are only found in the movies.  The film does not readily present what is reality and what is a delusion of Cage’s character.  Most actors would let the audience know, primarily to illicit sympathy from them.  Cage has no such qualms, instead walking the fine line of conviction, hysteria and violence with a dedication and energy that belies his talent.  He is a joy to watch and utterly compelling in every strange, nostril-flaring moment that he has conjured up.

As such, Cage was pioneering a whole new style of acting.  One that had little interest in naturalism or stage theory.  It harkened back to the earliest days of cinema; it is expressionistic.  Entirely formed from subjective reactions to isolated moments and scenes, it is heightened and defiant and one of the greatest special effects the world has ever seen.

It has, of course, been completely rejected by the vast majority of other actors.  The humourless wankers.

***

There’s a tendency to reduce action films to elevator pitches – where plot is boiled down into one-sentence, high-concept ideas.  It’s a frustrating punishment for action cinema, which so often relies on tone, mood and framing to create its identity.  The Rock, can be simply described as ‘a scientist and an aging James Bond break into Alcatraz.’  We’ve seen how ‘scientist’ utterly fails to describe the mania of a Nic Cage performance, but the fact that he is an ordinary working man, clearly puts this movie in the tradition of Die Hard (1988 – John McTiernan), whereby an everyday, albeit habitually wise-cracking, man is placed into a thoroughly dangerous circumstance.

An ‘aging James Bond’ is a more difficult position.  Clearly, John Mason is an elderly version of the Connery Bond – he’s a snobbish thug, who was explicitly incarcerated for being a spy and makes a series of asides and double-entendres.  Whilst he lacks Bond’s naval background, his complete disregard for authority marks him out as the same man.  This is a Bond who was disowned by the officers who replace Bernard Lee’s M, and he is filled with nothing but contempt for the order of things.

The James Bond films have often been cornerstones of action cinema.  The nasty, quick-cutting violence of From Russia with Love (1963 – Terence Young) proved highly influential.  Never again would a karate-chop to a shoulder suffice.  In the seventies, the Roger Moore Bond films pioneered the family-friendly, humorous and spectacular action film tradition that The Rock clearly belongs to.  By the time the series had reached the eighties, Moore and Connery, returning to the role in Never Say Never Again (1983 – Irvin Kershner), ensured that audience believed that Bond would always be an old man – a tired remnant of the British Empire.

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Sean Connery ensuring that no-one steals his crown in The Rock (1996 – Michael Bay)

But in 1996, the series had managed to have one of its regular ‘return-to-forms’.  Pierce Brosnan had become Bond’s latest regeneration in GoldenEye (1995 – Martin Campbell) – a glorious, unravelling of tattered British and Russian Empires that led to betrayal, explosions and sex.  Whilst the remaining Brosnan Bonds were to become some of the most tedious entries in the series, Brosnan himself was being hailed as the best-Bond-since-Connery.  In that regard, The Rock can be clearly seen as a defiant marking of territory.  Despite his difficult relationship with the role that made him famous, he had returned to it twice before, and The Rock is his way of showing that even as an old man, and wearing another one of his preposterous hairpieces, he was still a more engaging, charismatic screen presence than the breathy interloper who was beginning to get good reviews.

‘Alcatraz’ is a whole other prospect.  Films set in San Francisco occupy a special place in the cinematic canon.  The surrounding sea and immediate weather patterns give it an openness within its urban spaces that no other cinematic American metropolitan area can propose.  The acceptance of the local community has proven ripe for direct contrast with some of the most sickening aspects of society.  And the steeply hilled streets have been responsible for – directly echoed in The Rock – of some of the most thrilling, dangerous car chases in the history of cinema.  It’s close enough to L.A. to be neighbours, but far away enough to be a world apart.

By setting his film in and around San Francisco, Bay has sought to tie it into the pervy obsession of Vertigo (1958 – Alfred Hitchcock), Out of the Past (1947 – Jacques Tourneur) and Basic Instinct (1992 – Paul Verhoeven); the seedy, dystopian nothingness of Point Blank (1967 – John Boorman), Bullitt (1968 – Peter Yates) and The Conversation (1974 – Francis Ford Coppola); the dark underside and brutality of Dirty Harry (1971 – Don Seigel) and The Game (1997 – David Fincher); the action adventure of Big Trouble in Little China (1986 – John Carpenter) and the fevered desperation of Escape from Alcatraz (1979 – Don Seigel).  His creates a cinematic landscape within which his movie can play, drawing upon the beauty of the landscape and the weight of image to lend tension to his film.  Ultimately, we are more invested when we care about what is going to be destroyed.

***

For an action director, Michael Bay rarely employs monsters.  He refrains from using the snivelling, often British, traditional villains that dominate the genre, and has rarely resorted to the CGI nonsense that is found when someone like Alan Rickman or Jonathan Pryce isn’t available (the Transformers films are a notable exception to this.)  Bay will always seek to make the antagonist of the piece an individual with at least some reasonable motivation.  The military are often presented as failures within his films – and resourcefulness comes not from institutions, but from the work of individuals.  Which presents a quandary for Bay in this movie; he wants us to sympathise with Ed Harris, but at the same time understand the misguided cruelty of his actions.  To achieve this, he first places Harris as working alongside/against unscrupulous mercenaries, and then by placing him in direct opposition to Bay’s biggest enemy… politicians.  Those working in politics are unfailingly presented as pathetically self-aggrandising and intellectually weak.  It’s hard to disagree with this presentation.

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Cinematic shorthand in The Rock (1996 – Michael Bay)

As much as Bay has sought to place this film within a long tradition of San Francisco movies, he also seeks to use the cinematic shorthand of placing characters and moments within other films in order to elicit understanding from the audience.  There are the car chases from Bullitt, an aging James Bond, cart chases from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984 – Steven Spielberg), and heart-piercing from Pulp Fiction (1994 – Quentin Tarantino).  These references allow Bay to use a broader canvas than the frame allows.  Whilst he is not fully in in his quick-cutting, multiple camera, different format style of shooting, he still relies on an audience working quicker than 24 frames a second.  Similarly, this film lacks the soft-rock ballad that would come to play a part in his style of filmmaking over the next few years.  The formula is not quite complete.

This referencing shorthand, and non-traditional framing of movies has led many to dismiss Bay.  There are legitimate reasons to criticise him – the presence of a few too many angry black people in minor roles is uncomfortable viewing – but what is rarely appreciated is how Bay is a director who treats his audience with respect.  He knows that we can make quick connections as spectacle unfolds in front of us, and that subtext should be as visual as it is textual in cinema.

What is rarely commented upon though, is how much Bay uses talented actors to lend real weight to the unfolding action.  He ensures that throwaway lines, quick gags written by uncredited punch-up writers, and nonsense exposition are as engaging as any special effect.  In addition to Cage, Connery and Harris, The Rock features John Spencer, William Forsyth, Michael Biehn, John C. MicGinley, Philip Baker Hall, Xander Berkeley and Tony Todd in supporting roles.  Any one of these actors is enough to light up the screen.  The fact that Bay spends so much of his budget on employing such talent in minor parts should not be neglected.  It is impossible to find a Michael Bay movie tedious; the reason we have stars is because we don’t want to ever be bored in the cinema – Bay promises us that even in the moments the stars aren’t on screen, we will have an image lit up by prominent character actors spitting out dialogue far beneath them.

The movie lacks any significant female presence – only nineties babe Claire Forlani pops up to reduce the alarming levels of testosterone dominating the screen.  But Bay ensures that his men are defined as being in opposition to traditional masculine structures.  Nic Cage is regularly belittled in the movie, and denigrated by his inability to perform essential male roles, such as ejaculating a gun.  By ensuring that his hero is a strange, socially awkward man, and one defined by his intellect and not his physical prowess, he ensures that his presentation of gender is more nuanced than the movie poster would have you believe.  The ideal man is heroic, but not essentially violent.  Equally, his heroes will often be outsiders due to their class or race.  Heroism is an outcome, not a character trait, a distinction rarely qualified within action cinema.

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A beautiful, though visually disconnected, image from The Rock (1996 – Michael Bay)

In many ways, Bay was the perfect director for Cage – both were concerned with immediacy above all else.  Towards the end of the movie, when Bay shoots a desperate Cage silhouetted against a setting sun, he has little concern as to whether this aesthetically aligns with the shadow and blue of the rest of the movie; no, it is a beautiful image and thus one worthy of putting on screen.  Complete coherence is not a priority.  Bay’s tendency towards this would only grow as he widened his use of multiple camera set-ups using different film stocks – ultimately mixing formats completely when digital video gained primacy over traditional film.  What worked in the moment, worked in the moment.

The Rock is often belittled by contemporary cinephiliacs for its status as one of the early releases from the Criterion Collection.  But its use of cinematic shorthand, non-conventional presentation of masculinity and sheer visual pleasure ensure that it rightly deserves to be canonised.  After all, no-one like Vertigo when it came out…

***

We’ll continue Nicolas Cage’s career in Chapter VIII.

Broadly speaking, directors who came to prominence in the sixties made their name in television (Altman, Lumet etc.).  In the seventies they became known for their student films (Carpenter, De Palma, Scorsese).  In the eighties it was for their work in advertising (Ridley Scott) and in the nineties it was for their work on music videos (David Fincher).  Bay was firmly in the latter group, and his early motion pictures cemented him as a key figure in the future of action cinema.  Previously, we have looked at the figures who achieved success initially in the eighties (McTiernan, Cameron), or directors whose impact was limited (Woo), but now we were starting to glimpse the future.

Bay would begin by making the Spielbergian move into producing.  This is often an act of folly by most directors – their energy is spent wasted on support lesser filmmakers or tossing-off half-arsed ideas that have little appeal – but allows certain directors to cement their dominance in the market.  By creating the Platinum Dunes studio he moved himself into a brand.  The films produced by the studio are of limited appeal, and broadly consist of accessible remakes of seventies horror classics – is the A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010 – Samuel Bayer) significantly more interesting for using CGI effects rather than practical effects, or for making Freddy Krueger’s paedophilia explicit?

Bay himself would forge an interesting, if somewhat inconsistent career.  His success was cemented in Armageddon (1998), a preposterous but spectacular affair where he would cast blank male leads surrounded by a plethora of talented character actors to work their way through some nonsense plot.  A soft-AOR song would soundtrack the blandest of heteronormative relationships.  But it seemed like a successful formula, and Bay was determined to repeat it.

Pearl Harbor (2001), isn’t quite as bad as any lazy internet joke would have you believe, but it’s a long way from being good.  In the most part it suffers because the climax of the movie, the veritable attack on Pearl Harbor, comes at the centre of the film’s running time.  Which of course, as an isolated incident, was a failure for America.  Familiarity with the victory of history was not enough for cinema’s audience, so Bay adds a further hour or so to the film’s length to ensure that there is a significant act of revenge for Ben Affleck.  It leads to a disjointed, arrhythmic movie.

The most enjoyable movies Bay has made since this presumptuous disaster are the more personal, non-franchise projects.  The Island (2005) and Pain & Gain (2013) are crass, colourful and employ a unique visual style.  Bay has delighted in placing cameras in any number of bizarre places, ensuring his movies are full of shots that no-one has ever seen before.  Developments in technology have only aided this interest.  He employs a rapid-editing style, with cameras largely placed low to the ground.  Exceptions to this are his rapid crane work shots, where the image will soar in and around the actors.  This style comes alive in the wonderful car chases he makes sure he includes in every film.  He has maintained an integrity of physical performance and stunt work when most of cinema has denigrated into CGI slush.  He has a specific sense of place, and the Miami of Bad Boys II (2003) is as real as the San Francisco of The Rock.

Even in the dross that passes for the Transformers movies he is capable of producing work of sublime beauty.  Mark Kermode, a critic paid largely by an inescapable tax to repeat the same opinions across a number of media outlets, has called these films ‘the death of narrative cinema,’ which only seems to be an insult if you believe that narrative cinema deserves to be the dominant use of the form.  Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) is complete sensory experience produced (as is explicitly referenced in the film) during the dying days of physical form.  Using nine different recording mediums, Bay crafted a story of visual wonder, where the very nature of reality was questioned.  The films no longer sought to present a threat to the real world, instead subversively documented an imagined world where hostility was an everyday experience.  Within this, his usual plethora of talented actors grounded the film against the extraordinary stereoscopic action scenes that were unfolding in front of our eyes.

Bay, and by consequence The Rock, began to point the way forward.  Action stars could also be some of the most talented, interesting actors of their generation, not just muscle-bound freaks of nature.  Physical performance and stuntwork would still have a major role to play.  But equally, he moved action cinema towards a space where it would rely on a safe formula than one where a director’s vision reigned supreme.  Women would continue to be pushed towards the margins, a he would present a visual style that was easily misunderstood, ensuring a legion of incoherent images would smudge he screen in years to come.

Bay was the last director to get in through the door; he should have left it further ajar.

The Last Days – Chapter VIII – Face/Off (1997 – John Woo)

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At the end of 2016, I can’t help but think about the inevitable death of some of our most favourite actors.  What on Earth is the world going to be like when Tom Hanks dies (and will we ever truly appreciate him?)  Seeing an internet filled with lazy, gold-bikini studded tributes to Carrie Fisher, I dread to think what will happen once Michael Douglas passes… just lazy references to sex addiction I suppose.  Yet Douglas is a hero, a phenomenal actor (including in the much-derided genre of erotic thrillers) and broadly unheralded producer of some extraordinary movies.  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975 – Milos Forman) and Starman (1984 – John Carpenter) both exist successfully due to the nurture he gave to these projects.

So too, was Face/Off

 

* * *

The history of Hollywood is littered with talent magpied from the rest of the world.  When cinema was silent (the great leveller) directors were able to operate universally.  F. W. Murnau came to Hollywood in the twenties and directed Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) a sweetly expressionistic exploration of how community and physical space can impact a relationship.  Following the outbreak of World War Two, many directors fled to the U.S., anglicised their names, and continued to operate within the studio system.  Would the history of British cinema be more widely regarded if Selznick hadn’t tempted Hitchcock in the forties?  Actors also were continually repackaged, remade and domesticated, up to and including the great hero of this book, Schwarzenegger himself.

With this in mind, John Woo can seem like another name on a list.  But his almost absolute failure to produce anything of high regard in America defies an assumed career projection.

Why is that?  Why do we hold Woo’s American films with utter disregard?  When his Cantonese films snuck onto western screens they were met with unbridled enthusiasm.  A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989), Bullet in the Head (1990) are visceral, imaginative films.  They feature balletic gunfights and enveloping first-person camera angles.  These films arrived at the start of true gaming culture, as computers sought to immerse the players within the action.  There has always been a hint of snobbery when watching ‘foreign’ films – dreadful dialogue is easier to forgive when delivered in an alien tongue.  But who, other than (retch) Aaron Sorkin, gives a toss about dialogue?  In the late eighties, the goofy humour of his Hong Kong films is well placed alongside the populist comedic action-adventure films riding slipshod over the multiplex (to squeeze in Michael Douglas again, Romancing the Stone (1984 – Robert Zemeckis) is a clear example of this).  By the nineties, cinema was moving into a more serious zone.

Ultimately, it comes down to the difference between doves and pigeons.

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Jean-Claude Van Damme in Hard Target (1993 – John Woo)

Hard Target (1993) was Woo’s American debut.  It features Jean-Claude Van Damme as a preposterously hairstyled merchant seaman who kicks a lot.  Van Damme is ostensibly a cut-price Schwarzenegger rip-off, all muscles and outrageous accents, but Van Damme was a mobile, lithe athlete capable of performing some extraordinary stunts.  He is also a talented actor – he injects all his characters with an air of sorrow, as if he knows that they shouldn’t have ended up living with the level of violence that they do.  Filmed with a roaming, zooming Scorsese-like camera, it begins as a fairly pedestrian presentation of Van Damme as a samurai-like loner protecting the weak, before moving into a far more entertaining man-hunt (and it is presented as an actual hunt) in the second half.

Woo liked to use slow motion in his fight scenes.  This was a regular tool used by action filmmakers since the days of The Wild Bunch (1969 – Sam Peckinpah).  It would ramp up tension by stretching out moments of pain or terror to an extreme.  Woo would underline the hazy, phantasmagorical nature of these moments by releasing doves on the screen, whose wings would slow to a flutter.  But in Hard Target, he releases pigeons.  The truth was, despite Woo’s clear status and talent, in Hollywood he was a nobody, and as such he was only being provided with vermin.

Which brings us to John Travolta.

Which is a crass introduction… but few actors sum up the waste of potential than Travolta.  A remarkable talent, he has thrown it all away on vain mediocrity not once, but twice.  Like rats and pigeons he is a thing once removed from beauty.  After becoming a star with some beautiful performances covering up a simmering undercurrent of danger (most purely seen in Saturday Night Fever (1977 – John Badham) and Blow Out (1981 – Brian De Palma)) Travolta fell out of favour.  In 1994, Quentin Tarantino chose him to star in Pulp Fiction, as one of his first ‘career resurgence’ actors that would come to populate his oeuvre.   Once again, Travolta was a star, and we all remembered why we loved him – he was chilled and sarcastic and he moved like an angel.  But even by 1997, the rot was beginning to creep back in.

* * *

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Nic Cage in Face/Off (1997 – John Woo)

There’s a book to be written somewhere about the history of those bad mustard yellow shirts that people seemed to wear in the nineties (maybe that’s what I should be doing instead of this…)  They’re as distinct as Cages’ acting style – vulgar.  Cage does everything he can in the opening sequence of the film to distract us from his charisma.  He serially indecently assaults (and murders) women and children and generally behaves in an appalling manner.  His acting style stands in stark contrast to Travolta – Travolta has always been about moments of thoughtfulness and the quiet reflection within everyday life.  Here, Travolta, is given the same origin story as The Punisher, but instead of vigilantism, Travolta is quite clearly struggling with mental health issues whilst going about his demanding job.

Why are some heroes given families?  Are they an extension of the layer of heteronormative conventionality that is applied to our action stars to distract for the queer lust that permeates these films?  It can’t quite be that – parenthood is quite separate and distinct from this lust.  Used with the standard lack of imagination that prevails in Hollywood, they are another tool for motivation in the way that women are – the hero must save someone they love, or avenge the death of a loved one.  But children represent the inherent contradictions of humanity.  In the same way that we can love (and not actually like) someone, children represent both the absolute devotion of one soul to another, and the growing understanding that you have created something that will replace you, and quite possibly hate you.  They are every technological advancement – something initially useful that will grow to overthrow you with attitudes and actions that will seem utterly alien to your understanding of the world.

With perhaps a slight sense of knowing wit, Face/Off underlines the essential interchangeability of movie stars.  When Brad Pitt appears in World War Z (2013 – Marc Forster) it is easy to imagine almost any other individual playing the role.  Fantasy recasting is a popular act of cinemagoing (this will be particularly important when we reach Chapter X).  Stars have to give the perception that they are valuable to the success of this movie, that their talent is distinct.  Denzel Washington has a type of part that he likes – faithful, noble, the slightest hint of charm – but his utter conviction and ability to command attention means he can seem irreplaceable, when on paper, anyone could have led The Equalizer (2014 – Antoine Fuqua).  Tom Cruise has an underappreciated ability to command a frame, even when silent and motionless, that means he seems invaluable.  Arnie seems unique, largely because of his bizarre frame and outrageous accent.

Travolta was unable to maintain his success because he could not capitalise upon his natural ability.  Cage is such a mercurial talent that he appears idiosyncratic.  Despite the interchangeability of the plot, Face/Off weirdly underlines that these two actors are not the same.  Cage is a more compelling watch than Travolta, and is cast, despite the opening sequence, in the more conventional part of our hero.  How much more exciting would the film be if we could watch him as Castor Troy for the whole film?  The inability of the filmmakers to comprehend what the potential appeal of the movie could be is what leads to an air of tone-deafness.  This is also seen in the underlying incestuousness of some scenes – it can’t help but be perceived as utterly misguided when it is not commented upon.

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Travolta and Cage in Face/Off (1997 – John Woo)

The only regard in which we can understand how these two actors can swap roles is that they both seem to be individuals of extraordinary talent, who do not seem to have fully capitalised on it, and in some regards, squandered it on movies that did not engage them and their abilities.

But Face/Off is interesting in its exploration of identity.  To a greater or lesser extent, we all wear different faces to cope in life.  We are different person at work, at home, with love.  We are enormously contradictory and complex individuals.  Face/Off takes this an extreme, and turns it into a nightmare scenario – what if the person we are at work (crass, violent, domineering) came home one day?  What if those around us began to see through the masks?  What if we could not recognise which person we were meant to be?  Ultimately Face/Off is frustrating, because it returns to conformity – the safe, suburban family life is seen to be the dream – but the way it hints at these broader questions is effective.

Woo is director with pneumatic energy.  He does like to return to the same settings again and again though.  Gunfights surrounded by smashed mirrors and dove in darkened spaces was seen in Hard Target.  The (admittedly spectacular) final chase sequence and squabble on a beach will be repeated in Mission: Impossible II (2000).  This is not a distinct a feature as some have made it out to be – Michael Bay has been reusing the same car sequence from Bad Boys II (2003) for over a decade now – but it became another tool with which Woo could be diminished.  He never quite grasped the illusion of innovation that is essential to surviving within Hollywood.  Like the heroes of this film, he was unable to define his identity beyond the visual pleasures of his work.  Retreat was going to be the only option.

* * *

John went on to direct Mission: Impossible II (2000) where he replaced Brian De Palma’s tricksy identity politics and precise scenes of extraordinary tension with a pummelling Notorious (1946 – Alfred Hitchcock) spin that delivered his usual visual energy.  Its pleasures are peripheral.  It was the highest grossing film of the year… but still led to no greater respect.  He would follow this by reuniting with Nic Cage for Windtalkers (2002).

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It’s the same film… Ben Affleck in Paycheck (2003 – John Woo)

His (apparently) final Western film is Paycheck (2003).  Eschewing his usual visual pyrotechnics but continuing his wronged man riff (Woo is one of the forgotten Hitchcockians), Paycheck is an unpretentious thriller that plays precisely with time.  The joy of experiencing it comes in how it uses everyday objects to escape from seemingly impossible circumstances.  However, it starred an actor of limited appeal in the form of Ben Affleck.  It’s not that Affleck is hateable, it’s just that he has never been unable to escape the awful stench of smugness that surrounds his movies.  There is a great disconnect between him and the audience, the one thing that stops him being a star (who trade on a perceived intimacy with the viewing public), and he seems utterly unaware of this.  He is an undeniably smart man, but would benefit from knowing that he needs to spend a good few hours in front of a mirror practising how to smile, rather than smirk.

Once again, Woo had cast a pigeon when he needed a dove.  Even, the modicum of respect that had existed in Hollywood, and he retreated to China, where he makes epic historical films.  They’re very long, and I haven’t seen them.

Nic Cage’s career seems to have gained sentience; it is the living embodiment of his approach to acting.  It careers from sense to nonsense, it is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting, it makes no accommodation for the environment it is being produced within.  He will be Oscar nominated and mocked.  And because of his innovative approach, he will be misunderstood and ignored and rejected.  All pioneers are.  But here are eight films from the following years that feature Cage in his manic, compelling glory, and that demonstrate how excitingly fearless an actor he truly is:

  1. Snake Eyes (1998 – Brian De Palma) – where he is nervy and alive within De Palma’s meticulously long take shots.
  2. Bringing Out the Dead (1999 – Martin Scorsese) – where he is burnt out and subjugated by a city.
  3. Adaptation (2002 – Spike Jonze) – where he plays dual roles of barely fictional brothers.
  4. Matchstick Men (2003 – Ridley Scott) – Scott’s underappreciated black comedy sees Cage isolated and alone and desperate for affection
  5. The Wicker Man (2006 – Neil LaBute) – will always be ignored when taken in regard to its progenitor, but Cage embodies true terror within the film.
  6. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009 – Werner Herzog) – Cage is hypnotising as a man on edge of losing himself to himself.
  7. Joe (2013 – David Gordon Green) – is an atmospheric drama where Cage always seems on the edge of violence.
  8. Dog Eat Dog (2016 – Paul Schrader) – Cage shines in Schrader’s manic, imaginative late-period masterpiece.
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Nic Cage is the best Face/Off (1997 – John Woo)

* * *

Cage and Woo could not be contained by Hollywood.  Their energy was too much for most people.  It seemed that audiences wanted their heroes to be far more conservative…