It would be hard to ignore the recently fashionable trend of mocking or simply hating Nicolas Cage. I do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to make fun of Nicolas Cage, it is a past time I enjoy myself. However I feel like the contempt I hear when his name is mentioned has reached intolerable heights. Keep in mind as I talk about Cage I am defending his acting and not his off-screen persona or life (in which he plays a CRAZY PERSON).
Nicolas Cage is a terrific and very brave actor. One only need watch something like Adaptation or Raising Arizona to realize this. Not only is he a terrific actor but he may be one of the most relevant actors of our times…and here is where his critics run astray.
I don’t think I am overstating the case when I say that most films starring Nicolas Cage are pretty bad. Next, Knowing and Bangkok Dangerous could be viewed as recent examples of low points in contemporary American cinema. Hollywood today is by and large a creative wasteland, mostly re-booting dead franchises or adapting TV shows and boardgames (BOARDGAMES). Just like in the cinema depression of the 1960s Hollywood has reverted to using gimmicks such as 3D to get people to come to the movies. For the last couple of years Nicolas Cage has not made movies above this calibre and in the mind of many he has begun to embody the intellectually void spirit of Hollywood.
At first glance this might seem valid. His performances are often over-the-top, absurdly corny and unrealistic. But the same can be said about the movies those performances are contained in. Cage is in fact giving these movies precisely the kind of performances they require and that in itself is something most actors would hesitate to do. He is fearless in his roles. Even in something so obviously awful as the 2006 Wicker Man remake he radiates intensity so explosively you can’t help but marvel at the lengths he is willing to go to. An ordinary actor would no doubt approach the corniness, absurdity and melodrama of The Wicker Man with restraint and realism trying to bring believability to the story (when it obviously has none to begin with). Instead Cage gives it what it deserves and for it we have the unintentional comic gem that is The Wicker Man. If viewed from the right perspective, in his bad films, Cage’s acting actually works as an astute commentary on the film itself.
Recently some directors have begun to recognize and embrace the unique qualities of Nicolas Cage. Werner Herzog, one of the world’s best directors, recently cast Cage in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in which the actor gets the opportunity to play a charater so obsessed and hyperbolically depraved you can almost feel Cage rejoicing at the opportunity really stretch his muscles. The film, hand in hand with Cage’s performance comments sardonically on our expectations of the genre and ideas of morality. It’s an inspired if somewhat perplexing film. Kick Ass is another film in which you can see glimpses of Cage’s awareness of the ridiculous conventions of superhero movies, especially when he dons his hilarious “superhero voice”.
I urge the critics of Nic Cage to take a closer look at his work, especially in the movies we generally consider to be bad. Quite simply he has become an effigy symbolizing the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood which is an insult to his performances, which are often amazing. He gets a bad reputation simply for echoing the content of his films, which have been terrible many a time. We may not realize it but we need Nicolas Cage. Sometimes we need him to give us a beautifully nuanced performance, sometimes to go to lengths our other actors won’t and sometimes simply to tell us how bad a movie really is.