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The Good, the Bad & the Badass: Nicolas Cage

06.09.2014

Last week, we took a look at the career of Tom Cruise, who first burst onto the scene with 1983's RISKY BUSINESS. That same year, another future star made his starring debut in a small film called VALLEY GIRL. Within years, that quirky leading man would become one of the biggest stars of his generation...

Nicolas Cage

It bothers me to watch Nicolas Cage in the trailers for something like LEFT BEHIND. He deserves much better, but for reasons best known to Cage, over the last five years or so he's opted to take on dozens of low-rent movies, many of which are unwatchable, and all of which are unworthy of his still considerable talent. And yes, the man is still damn talented. Diamonds in the rough like JOE, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, and even THE FROZEN GROUND prove this. But for all of those, there are a dozen movies like RAGE, SEEKING JUSTICE, STOLEN and more.

Nevertheless, it can't be denied Cage is one of the best there is, and an full-on icon whose performances will endure even if he never makes another good film (and I'm sure he'll find his groove again – a stint on a show like TRUE DETECTIVE would be amazing for him). Since VALLEY GIRL, he's had a fascinating career. He started as the quirky leading man in movies like RAISING ARIZONA, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, and WILD AT HEART, before making a slew of light comedies, like HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, TRAPPED IN PARADISE, and others, before becoming a full-on action hero with three back-to-back classics, THE ROCK, CON AIR, and FACE/OFF.

Since then he's had his ups and downs, and is often poked fun at for his extreme displays of emotion and rage in movies, and for his ummm, interesting choice of hair pieces, but he's always been great. In fact, I'd wager even in his really bad movies, Cage has always been worth watching, and his body of work – on the whole – is chockful of gems.

His Best Performance

For me, this is a no brainer. Cage has never been better than he was in Mike Figgis' LEAVING LAS VEGAS, for which he deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar. There's no way this is my favorite Nicolas Cage “movie” but as far as performances go he's incredible (his gorgeous co-star – one of my all time crushes – Elizabeth Shue is no slouch either). Movies tend to romanticize addiction, as if there's something attractive about someone wanting to destroy themselves. That's not the case here. Cage plays alcoholism as hideous, looking like he sweats booze, with bleary red-eyes, constant dt's, and worse. You hate him, but you also pity him. Other than ADAPTATION, I don't think Cage has ever gone as far in a performance since.

His Most Overrated Film

While Cage has made some truly awful movies (BANGKOK DANGEROUS would be my choice for the worst), one that I’ve always found overrated is his Jerry Bruckheimer – Dan Brown clone – NATIONAL TREASURE. Both the first and second films were blockbusters and rank among Cage's most popular movies, but to me they were terribly weak. The stories were meandering, Cage seemed wasted, and the dopey “conspiracy theories” and revisionist history of the movies felt like the kind of thing you'd be better off not thinking about too long after the credits rolled to prevent brain rot. The second film is especially dull.

His Most Underrated Film


Two extremely underrated Nicolas Cage movies came out within months of each other in 2005. The first was Andrew Niccol's LORD OF WAR. A sprawling gangster epic chronicling the rise and fall of a black-hearted Russian arms dealer – with Cage giving an exceptionally subtle performance. LORD OF WAR's failure at the box-office and with critics is puzzling. It's really one of his best movies, and also features a stand-out supporting turn by Jared Leto as his conscience-plague junkie brother. If you haven seen this one it's a must-see.

The next film was THE WEATHER MAN, directed – in a huge change of pace – by Gore Verbinski. Critics weren't especially kind to it, but other than an atrocious hair piece for Cage, it's a pretty brilliant black comedy, with Cage as an obnoxious TV weather man looking to make a big career jump and reunite his estranged family. Cage is superb, as is Michael Caine was his dying father, and Hope Davis as his put-upon estranged wife. Sadly, it sank like a stone at the box office. Other really interesting – but unheralded – Cage films include MATCHSTICK MEN, the criminally ignored BRINGING OU T THE DEAD, and the early neo-noir RED ROCK WEST.

His Most Memorable Scene

As far as his performances go, you can't exactly call his work in Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT – PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS subtle, but damn if it's not absolutely fascinating. A crazy satire of dirty cop movies (including the film it's inexplicably linked to via its title) Cage is downright maniacal, channelling Herzog's own favorite leading man, Klaus Kinski, as a drug-addict cop trying desperately to solve a mass murder. How desperate? Well, in this – the craziest scene in the film – he chokes off an elderly lady's air supply in order to get her nurse to give him a much-needed lead. Only Cage at his absolute craziest could have ever gotten away with this.

His Top-Five Performances

5. (tie) ADAPTATION & JOE
4. FACE/OFF
3. WILD AT HEART
2. RAISING ARIZONA
1. LEAVING LAS VEGAS

Up Next

As usual, Cage is absolutely swamped with work. RAGE comes out on VOD this week, with this fall sees the release of the depressingly low-rent (seeming) LEFT BEHIND, as well as OUTCAST with Hayden Christensen. An upcoming with with Paul Schrader, THE DYING OF THE LIGHT, sounds more promising.

Source: JoBlo.com

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