The Cage Paradox

Leon Weber

Here’s an interesting challenge: name an actor or actress with a spotless resume. Not so easy, eh? In my eyes, the only one who comes even close is John Cazale. All the films he has starred in received Best Picture Oscar nominations, including The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. Then again, had he not died prematurely at the age of 43 who knows where his career would have taken him (I guess it’s the same case with James Dean).

Most of the usual suspects, however, have committed at least one or two severe cinematic crimes, either at the very early stages of their career (George Clooney in Return of the Killer Tomatoes) or with advanced age (I still have hope for you, but right now, I’m looking at you Robert De Niro). Nevertheless, the trend is that great performances outweigh bad ones. Do we think of Al Pacino as a bad actor because he stared in Bennifer’s nightmare of a film, Gigli? No, we think of him as Tony Montana, Michael Corleone or Serpico.

You might wonder where I’m going with this. Well, it occurred to me recently that this rule doesn’t really seem to apply to Nicolas Cage. There’s no doubt that he has been in some terrible, terrible films over the years, but what people tend to forget is that he is also an Oscar-winning actor with a special talent when it comes to portraying eccentric individuals in a strangely funny and touching way.

If a character is complex, flawed or simply mad, Nic Cage will deliver a great performance. If he takes on a stereotypical role, be it the slick hitman, a treasure hunter or a loving single father, you can most definitely expect a cringeworthy portrayal as well as a Razzie nomination (my favourite: the nomination for worst screen couple which Cage and his bear suit received for the Wicker Man remake in 2006). Maybe there is something autobiographical about his good performances. No offence, but don’t you find it easier to imagine Nic Cage having OCD (like his character in Matchstick Men) than him being an astrophysicist (Knowing)?

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence then that he delivered one of his best performances in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation. Cage’s double role portrayal as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his less talented twin brother Donald Kaufman actually had me convinced that they were uncannily similar to himself. One half of Nic Cage simply wants to be respected for his work, the other half frustratingly compromises it by making stupid action movies. I guess this isn’t an inconceivable thought, as Cage himself believes that “there’s a fine line between the method actor and the schizophrenic”. I can just imagine the two Cages battling over whether to take on the lead in Werner Herzog’s upcoming Bad Lieutenant or to give in to the temptation that is Ghost Rider 2. As long as both halves get their say, I will remain a happy man.


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