Nicolas Cage: Artist or hack? The choice is his

Knowing_lWhen will Nicolas Cage make another good movie? Knowing, his latest paycheck in the form of a movie he should never have considered doing, debuted yesterday to an $8.8 million opening-day gross and will almost certainly be number one this weekend. As always, that amounts to a kind of lowly vindication of the Cage strategy. He makes films that people want to see, and in today’s Hollywood, there aren’t too many forms of cred that can trump that. For a lot of people, though, Cage has become something of a joke, a proud I don’t give a f—! hack-for-hire who sells out his gifts with such unabashed promiscuity that it’s almost as if he were daring you to call him on it. Once in a while, of course, Cage comes back into the fold. He tried most recently with World Trade Center, which came out three years ago, although his last truly stellar role was probably that of the discombobulated screenwriter in Adaptation, the Charlie Kaufman-scripted brain-teaser released in 2002. Ever since then, in far too many grade-Z genre schlockers (Bangkok Dangerous, Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man), Cage is like an actor who might have been Marlon Brando and decided instead to go the route of Wesley Snipes.

Does he do it for the money? Perhaps, but that may be too facile an explanation. It’s worth recalling that Cage, even in the ’80s, those days when he dared to act without a net, was one of the first actors of his generation to pump up his physique. He has always wanted to be a high-flying thespian and a sex-god movie star. I’ll never forget what a jolt it was when he came up to accept the Oscar for his fearless and sublime performance in Leaving Las Vegas (1996). It was obvious that he had re-honed his image for the moment — his facial contours newly sculpted and pristine, his hair looking more luxurious than it had in years. This was the official crowning moment of his career as a screen artist, but it was also the launch of Nicolas Cage 2.0: the brawny action-movie leading man who would follow Leaving Las Vegas by making The Rock and Con Air (in all fairness, he probably needed a break from psychodrama), grabbing success as Hollywood then defined it: as the holy right to kick righteous ass on screen.

Ever since, Cage’s big bad expensive movies have been there, in a strange way, to feed his ego. Their very existence says: look at how much the powers that be will pay for me! It also says, within a culture of glorified frat-house values: I’m prized not only when I do that fancy, prestige girly-man acting stuff but simply when I show up with my knitted eyebrows and my brooding pout, when I do my whole James Dean-gone-to-the-dark-side thing, when I’m Nicolas Cage, unvarnished by acting.

In his cheesy paycheck films, Cage always seems to be cast as some sort of boozing, disheveled film-noir lost soul, and the roles have added up over time into a kind of unconscious confessional symbolism.It’s as if Cage were saying that he’s aware of the toll his sell-out is taking on him. But speaking of confession, maybe he’s about to comeback to the fold again: One of his upcoming films is a remake of Abel Ferrara’s wrenchingly depraved, soul-on-the-hot-grill Bad Lieutenant (1992),which Werner Herzog is directing. With any luck, it will mark a return to the kind of high-wire acting that Cage has always done best. I’ve always wondered why he can’t do both at once: make those slovenly genre films that critics thumb their noses at but that rule the box office for a weekend, then turn around and do stunning independent work with a bold director who is breaking new ground. Maybe Bad Lieutenant will be that film. But either way, Cage is far too great an actor to ever leave us asking: When will Nicolas Cage make another good movie?


Comments (127 total) Add your comment
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  • Ken

    Don’t forget The Weather Man. Aside from a traditional looking trailer, the film had a lot of non-hollywood aspects was a good story with realistic and comedic touches, and had a good performance by Cage.

  • urbangulfguy

    the reason why nicolas cage makes suckie movies is because nicolas cage sucks….enough said…..

  • Gary

    He went downhill when he got his teeth fixed.

  • Sarah D

    Have I missed something? Like all those movies wher Nicholas Cage (Coppola) was a good actor? Did you see Leaving Las Vegas? Elizabeth Shue gets raped and finds out there’s a rock bottom even further down than being a Vegas hooker and she gets totally ignored. Nicholas Cage walks around acting drunk and only in half the movie and he gets an Oscar? The only reason Nicholas Cage’s career wasn’t ruined by the crap that was Valley Girl is that fact that he is a Coppola.

  • Adam

    I agree with this article 100%!

  • MsDaisy

    Sorry, but I don’t ever recall Nicolas Cage being a great actor. He’s a joke.

  • reaun

    I use Nicolas Cage as a benchmark on weither I should see a movie
    if he’s in it I don’t see
    Cage is a pure hack with good hollywood connections

  • Sara

    Don’t agree… I like Nick Cage, and I don’t necessarily go see every movie he’s in. In fact, I probably haven’t seen one since “Family Man” — a classic — but I like him in movies, period.

  • Rob Tyson

    I would agree with Ken… I thought that Cage in the Weather Man. I also like him in lighter fare such as The Family Man & It Could Happen to You.

  • Rob Tyson

    oops… that made no sense. Loved The Weather Man, liked him in the breezy, non-brooding films. I can even handle the National Treasure films. Just read the script first, Nick (Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, etc…)

  • Lisa

    I think you could insert a number of current actors’ names instead of Cage and it would be the same article. Clooney, Dicaprio, Damon, Affleck, etc. Let’s face it, most of the current Hollywood actors today are ALL hacks. There will never be actors like Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, etc. every again.

  • Lisa

    he is no more a hack than a Clooney, DiCaprio, Damon, etc.
    Long gone are the days of great actors.

  • Todd

    Exactly what was wrong with Bangkok Dangerous and Ghost Rider???

  • Jon

    He’s a hack, and worse — he’s bald. My God, someone get this guy a decent wig! He’s a total distraction in movies now because his wigs are SO BAD. I mean just TERRIBLE. Like a dead animal on his head.

  • Todd

    Lisa, seriously? How can you call Clooney, Damon, or DiCaprio hacks? Maybe Affleck but he’s been rebounding lately. They all make legitimate films and get serious consideration come awards season. When’s the last time Nic Cage did that?

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