Rohan Morbey selects his Five Essential Nicolas Cage Films…
Nicolas Cage is unlike any other leading man in Hollywood. His films choices are anything but ‘safe’ and he doesn’t choose the same predictable, boring characters time after time. His films are undeniably hit and miss, and his last few pictures have not done his talent any justice.
However, true Cage fans know he is much more than Season of the Witch, Bangkok Dangerous, and Next, and when he is on form, there is no other actor who can deliver the intensity, unpredictability, and passion he brings to a role.
Now a huge player in Hollywood, it took 13 years and 24 films before Cage became an A-list regular, commanding the big budgets and even bigger money with frequently collaboration with producer Jerry Bruckheimer. However, although only one of my choices are from 1995 onwards, his run of films from The Rock to World Trade Center (both narrowly missing out on this list) are as diverse and entertaining as anybody working in Hollywood today.
5. Raising Arizona (1987, dir. Joel Coen)
It represents Cage’s best comedic performance, as H.I McDunnough, the bumbling thief with a good heart who steals a baby when his wife can’t conceive. Cage has always been able to bring a sense of comedy to a lot of roles, even his action pictures, but here we see just how good he is a light comedy. Cage brings McDunnough to life in true Coen brothers fashion, and it remains one of their best films to date, too.
4. Red Rock West (1993, dir. John Dahl)
In my opinion, John Dahl’s small, no-frills neo-noir represents the best picture Cage made (aside from my #3 choice) in his pre-Oscar winning years. Although I must add Birdy comes mighty close to that honour as well.
Only a relatively small number of people have probably actually seen Red Rock West (and it’s no longer available on Region 2 DVD) but that almost adds to its charm. It is a small film, but with that comes a tight script, a femme fatale, a great villain, and a reluctant hero (Cage) all perfectly held together by the director which deserves it place on this list, and any list of neo-noir pictures.
Played mostly straight, but with some dark humour throughout, Cage plays a drifter who arrives in the small town of Red Rock and is mistaken for a hit-man. The plot gets complicated and, like any good noir, the lines between good and bad and blurred but it represented a new level in quality of production and script for Cage.
3. Wild at Heart (1990, dir. David Lynch)
Cage is kind of talent that seemed to be born to star in a David Lynch film. Both star and film maker do not conform to conventions and ‘normal’ performances or directing styles. This violent road and darkly comic film is no exception, and although it is one of Lynch’s more accessible stories, it still has all the trademarks of his work and is not for the faint of heart.
Cage excels here as Sailor, the Elvis obsessed protagonist. Not many other actors would sing ‘Love Me Tender’ and ‘Love Me’ with the straight face he does, whilst all the time remaining menacing and on the edge.
Wild At Heart shows Cage’s ability to create a dark, brooding character who is both erotic and passionate whilst prone to bursts of immense violence and rage. Not all actors could pull of both, but Cage shows it can be done, and at the same time.
2. Face/Off (1997, dir. John Woo)
Cage burst on to the action scene in 1995 with The Rock (still the only good film Michael Bay has directed, in my opinion) and followed up with the high-octane Con Air in 1997. But he completed his big budget, big box-office trilogy with my number 2 pick, Face/Off.
Back in ‘97 this film had all the ingredients to be one of the best action films of recent years, but it far exceed that. Released 14 years ago, it represents one of the last truly great pure action films made and is easily the best of director John Woo’s Hollywood entries.
Cage plays the bad guy, John Travolta plays the good guy. In these roles, Cage is having all the fun as the deliriously unhinged terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy. Then, in the second act, the actors switch roles, and it’s Travolta’s turn to have all the fun and one-liners. But Cage really gets to grips with the emotional challenge the FBI agent has brought upon himself by swapping faces with his sworn enemy. Amongst all the explosions and gun play, there lies a splendidly understated performance from Cage. Watch again the scene when he tells his wife the story of how they met to make her believe he is the man underneath the ‘mask’. It’s a brilliantly acted scene for such a ridiculous premise.
Of course where the film does excel is in its action set pieces. John Woo brought his ‘gun ballet’ from Hong Kong to America in 1993, but it wasn’t until Face/Off that audiences sat up and paid attention to just how good his style was. He had the right actors to do it for him as well, and this marks the best in ‘big budget Cage’. A slightly more accomplished film than the excellent The Rock, and cemented the star as one of Hollywood’s A-List.
1. Leaving Las Vegas (1995, dir. Mike Figgis)
This, more than any other film in his 30 year career, defines Nicolas Cage’s talent. Not his star power or his ability to rake in the money, but his true and outstanding talent.
The winner of Best Actor at the 1995 Academy Awards, Cage’s portrayal of Ben, an alcoholic who decides to go to Las Vegas to drink himself to death, is as good a performance from any actor in any film at any stage in film making.
This is a a bold statement, I know. But anyome who has seen the film knows this to be true. The performance was what had been bubbling away under the surface of Cage over the years, just waiting for the right script and film to let it shine. In doing so, Cage went from top strength to strength in terms of success and popularity, but he will probably never be as good again as he was here. That’s not a criticism on the actor, I would say it about any one else who delivered this performance, too.
It has to be the number one choice because it is his number one role, the role which will define him for the rest of his career. He deserved the role and the chance to make it big after all the hard work he put in from the beginning years as Nicolas Coppola. My only hope is he will return to such quality again, because talents like his are so rare in Hollywood now. He only has to choose the right film.
Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your thoughts…