No actor has ever troubled Hollywood and the rest of the world as much as Nicolas Cage. He is the perfect medium between mainstream and independent. He is a paycheck victim and the man behind every intelligently obscure film. He has made the poorest choices of project and the wisest ones at the same time. He is highly gifted but also cheesy and awkward in many of his performances. He is a great actor and the worst, simultaneously. He is a misunderstood genius and a con artist. He is unpredictable, out of his mind and the ultimate paradox.
Nicolas Cage’s expressive eyes can take him from a sensitive role in City of Angels, to a mean Ghost Rider or a sleazy Bad Lieutenant. How he will use the meaningful sadness that his eyes exude is uncertain. Whether he’ll convince his audience or not remains to be seen. Every single time is a gamble. Some of the most incredible films include him in the cast, and more than often, well-respected filmmakers offer him the lead part. At the same time, projects that we’re trying to forget all about, and filmmakers that we find hard to respect choose him too. And this is how Nicolas Cage stars in Bangkok Dangerous and also Leaving Las Vegas. In National Treasure: Book Of Secrets and Raising Arizona. In Next and Adaptation. In Drive Angry and The Weather Man. In Season Of The Witch and Matchstick Men.
What’s even more confusing than these contradictory choices is his career as an action hero. Deciding whether you love Con Air, The Rock or Face Off can be tough — personally I find all three incredible — and one can’t help but think that this is an actor who’s playing a joke on us again and again. The lines are cheesy but still clever, the situations are hilarious and the characters, although involved in extreme fakeness and predictability, somehow become engaging and appealing. An even bigger somehow-it-works concerns the cast that often supports Nicolas Cage in such movies. It can range widely, from Eva Mendes to Sean Connery and from Amber Heard to John — Cyrus the damn Virus — Malkovich. All the supporting actors work, no matter what their style, no matter what their skills.
This is not only an actor who switches from a good film to a bad one and from a great performance to a cringe-worthy one in minutes, but he’s also an artist so complex, puzzling and ambiguous that we can’t help but second-guess ourselves every time we like or dislike one of his films. I have struggled for a long time trying to decide whether Face Off is such overly exaggerated action that it becomes annoying and tiring or simply a work of art. I have concluded the latter thanks to Nicolas Cage’s Castor Troy/Sean Archer. At the same time, I have found it tough trying to decide whether I consider John Travolta a good actor, and admittedly this question is given a definite answer when he’s put opposite Nicolas Cage as Sean Archer/Castor Troy. This is entertainment at its best.
So does this mean that Nicolas Cage has the ability to always recognize art when he sees it, grab it and take it to a higher level, while he is also able to transform junk into art or in cases, even keep it junk for cheap entertainment’s sake? It seems so. When possible, Cage opts for deep, dark, hilarious films. Other times he takes a movie with nothing to offer, loads superficial characters with emotion and humour, and ensures that his performances are passionate and exciting and that he’s the only one visible on screen. Other times he quits before he begins. And all at once, narrative shortcomings, banal characters, bad acting and awkward lines become visible. Whatever he does, he does it strongly, with confidence and willingness to accept our praise just as much as our contempt. Sometimes it feels like he even enjoys his paradoxical career and reputation, he keeps us wondering, plays us around and tries to catch us unprepared. Needless to say, he always succeeds.
To determine what Nicolas Cage is all about is perhaps one of the hardest things in the world. Love him or hate him, this is an incredibly talented artist, an amazing entertainer and the only actor able to make a line like Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box? work. To say he’s versatile would be an understatement, so we’ll put him down as a true enigma, an original madman, and perhaps the only one still keeping us on our toes.