Do you find that one actor or actress gets to you in the way that no other performer does?
If this was my second oldest child answering, he would say Johnny Depp.
For me, it is Nicholas Cage.
I have no idea why but I will stop my world to watch a Nicholas Cage movie – good or bad.
Lately one of the stations has been showing Ghost Rider over and over. I have been watching when I get a chance for the pure chutzpah of it all. How Cage will look in a mirror and smack his choppers, making that hollow sound of bones crashing together.
He takes total joy in the pursuit of evil and bringing in those who prey upon their fellow man.
Then this same actor makes National Treasure. The history geek in me loves this movie and all of the facts – or semi-real facts – it presents. All along, Cage’s character waxes poetic about the meaning of the Constitution. When his assistant, Justin Bartha, states that people don’t talk that way, Cage responds with “But they feel that way.” As he says it, I know deep in my heart he truly believes in that line.
There is sincerity in that statement. What Cage has been working for the last few years is creating characters with sincerity.
In his early career, Cage had a tendency to overact. Watch him in Moonstruck. There is a constant “over-the-top” feeling. He won’t get beyond it for several years. But then he did Guarding Tess (1994) with Shirley MacLaine and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) with Elizabeth Shue.
His acting changed, he became more real despite some of the outrageousness. Whatever was going on in the story, Cage became the calm inside of the storm. But he also worked to be interesting without being weird.
Adaptation allowed him to play two roles – the blocked writer working on a novel-to-screenplay adaptation and the outgoing twin brother who easily writes a screenplay and sells it almost instantly. The movie is about the creation of movies and a writer’s dip into a deadly underbelly of orchids (of all things).
Another great movie from this period is Matchstick Men in which Cage and Sam Rockwell are con men, making the biggest con of their careers that will allow for retirement. Cage is suffering from OCD which makes doing jobs harder and harder. Then he discovers he has a daughter from his brief marriage.
I love this movie for the highs and lows, the wins and the losses. I love it for Cage’s performance. I feel the same way about The Family Man, The Weatherman, National Treasure and World Trade Center. These performances are about character studies and people going through tough situations in really messy ways.
In the last few years, there have been news stories about Cage’s need to pay off tremendous debt. He has made some incredible popcorn movies, relying on those great acting skills in movies that are B-level. What we don’t always get is that he makes them watchable. How bad could his latest movie, Drive Angry, had gotten if he did not play it serious.
Considering I believe he made The Sorcerer’s Apprentice better than it should have been, it is my feeling he has saved many of these lesser movies. But the real question is will Cage ever get back to making the better movies he is capable of doing?
Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.