Monday, August 27, 2007

Caged Fury: The Dynamic Nicholas Cage

This post is part of the Bizarro Blog-a-thon sponsored by Lazy Eye Theater.

Alongside Marlon Brando, there's one actor who defines his generation through intensity. He burrows deep into each and every role, creating an indelible impression of wit, honesty and emotion. That actor is Nicholas Cage. What began due to favored kindness (as the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola), soon evolved into a career far beyond those generous acts of charity. Cage soon emerged as an actor who deserved (and still deserves) to be heard, felt, and experienced. He's the greatest actor currently on the horizon of American motion pictures.

After receiving bit parts in "Fast Times At Ridgemont High", "Rumble Fish" and "The Cotton Club", Cage burst onto the American psyche with his supporting role in Coppola's "Peggy Sue Got Married". This is where I first experienced the fury of Cage. His performance, basically upstaging every one else on screen, resembles that of Brando squirming with intensity in "A Streetcar Named Desire". Cage's performance shifted from leisurely explosive youth to world-weary husband in the blink of an eye. It was then he re-invented himself and portrayed the role of Ronny opposite Cher in "Moonstruck", showing that he can also invade persona of hard-edged Italian lover. Still more invention, when in 1987, he shifted genres effortlessly again, landing himself in the lead role of the Coen Brothers' "Raising Arizona". Even though this is probably his most generic role to date, the film survives the onslaught of sophomore camera tricks and the Coen Brothers usual flat humor due to Cage's wily performance. From there, the sky seemed to open up and lay out the limit. Cage continually invested each upcoming role with bravado. While a majority of the mid-90's were spent in a slight decline, he still made the best of every role. There was his perverse and fine-tuned performance in David Lynch's exotic spectacle "Wild At Heart" (a film that, like "Raising Arizona", survived the masturbatory impulses of its lazy autuer director due to Cage's magnificent grounding). Then there was Cage's manifestation of a down and out loser in John Dahl's "Red Rock West". It was clear that Cage was having fun even when his director and crew seemed to have no idea what they were doing. Didn't they know the neo-noir wave in American cinema began and ended with "Pulp Fiction"??? The only real highlights of Cage during this time period happened in the supremely funny and ground-breaking comedy "Guarding Tess" and the fairy tale New York story "It Could Happen To You", a film so light and generous that it feels like Ernst Lubitsch was hovering over the production. There was also his role in Christopher Coppola's "Deadfall", a film that feels literally dead on arrival, saved only by Cage's gleeful and revolutionary supporting character role. This is the performance that supporting Oscar awards are made for, but sadly he was overlooked. The performance he did eventually win an Oscar for, 1995's "Leaving Las Vegas" feels more like a lifetime achivement award than anything else. But still, it only confirmed Cage's explosive temperament was finally washing over modern audiences after 11 years of stoic abilities.

The crowning achievement came in 1996 though, when actor Cage met producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Their marriage, resulting in the slam-bam coupling of the two greatest American action films since Buster Keaton, still resonates to this day. I'm referring to "The Rock" and "Con Air". Not only did these two films represent a shift in modern filmmaking (spearheading the magnificent idea that no film can be digested without 12,345 edits per 200 feet of film) but they transformed Nicholas Cage from American actor to AMERICAN ACTOR. Just look at those pecks in "Con Air", or the twirly blonde hair he sports. Even in "The Rock", he grandstands an aging Sean Connery and a spineless Ed Harris. Nicholas Cage was now the new American icon.

But the defining of Cage as actor didn't end there. After 1997, Cage entered a golden age of acting, embodying stellar performance after stellar performance. There was his re-admission into the heart throb category opposite Meg Ryan in the beautifully nuanced "City of Angels", a film that said so much with so little. The same could be said for his 2004 masterpiece, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin". And there was "Gone In Sixty Seconds", a throwback to 70's two-lane blacktop cinema that still holds up today, perhaps even more than the original 70's motor fests. And who could forget Cage's bid as the modern Jimmy Stewart with 2001's "The Family Man".

Even today, Cage is still choosing roles carefully. After twenty years in front of American audiences, he continues to fascinate and enthrall. Think back to the succession of films that Jack Nicholson churned out between 1969 and 1975. For the last six years, Cage duplicated that feat: "Windtalkers", "Sonny", "National Treasure" (probably the most entertaining film of the last 50 years!), The Wicker Man", "Ghost Rider" and "Next". Not only does this series of films prove that Cage is still burning the candles at both ends, but he's transformed himself into a cypher of modern emotions and characters. He is everyman, and he's no one. But I could go on all day. I'll simply let the images above speak louder than my feeble words. If Brando doesn't come to mind, then you're fuckin' crazy....


Anonymous said...

Excellent post! And I mean that in a non-Bizarro way.

Nicholas Cage is a strange Hollywood anomaly. He regularly received praise for what I consider to be shitty performances.

In addition to the video you posted on this, I would add this one:

Joe Baker said...

Thanks Ray. You know, I almost included The Wicker Man video, but I've seen it posted so many places, that I felt its power may be diluted. This clip, on the hand, is so loopy that it's hypnotic. And a damn fine representation of America's greatest living actor to boot!

Steffi said...

I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

Cage Trailers