Tom Jolliffe on why Nicolas Cage at his wildest is a gift to cinema…
To say Nic Cage is a divisive character would be quite the understatement. Likewise, as an actor. You could say, with great understatement, that he’s an oddball. As an actor, you could also say he tends to be most known for theatrical performances over quiet restraint (though the latter, in those rare moments, he does exceptionally well).
When Cage (real name Nicolas Coppola) broke through as an actor, there was a cynical reaction in some film critic corners that nepotism was the key factor in his sudden emergence. For those who don’t know, Cage is the nephew of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola. Early roles for Cage included a supporting part in Coppola’s vastly underrated, Rumble Fish. By the mid 1990’s, Cage was thoroughly well established with a CV or predominately critical acclaim. He’d had Golden Globe nominations for Moonstruck and Honeymoon In Vegas, as well as an Oscar and Golden Globe win for Leaving Las Vegas. It was around this point that Cage added box office draw to his strengths. The Rock, Con Air, Face Off, Nation Treasure. For almost a decade, a Cage blockbuster was usually a good bet for good returns. It seems odd. The unconventional look, the unconventional acting style. To an extent, box office is heavily dictated by younger audiences, but Cage was indeed striking a chord. Perhaps because he was so inherently different.
Eventually that light dimmed a little, combined with financial woe and a then a scattershot approach to picking roles, just over 10 years ago, Cage began his descent into the direct to video realm. Now he works almost non-stop. He tends to have 4-6 films a year these days. Most of these aren’t great and many see Cage coasting. The occasional gem like Joe comes around and reminds us that he’s a great actor on his day. Or something like Mom and Dad perfectly allows Cage a platform to satisfy ardent fans of his ‘crazy’ work. I count myself among them.
If you’ve not already seen it, it’s well worth checking out the trailer for Mandy. On paper it could well sound like just another Cage, Video on Demand premiere pot-boiler, but it has just enjoyed a successful festival run and garnered rave critical reviews. It would seem that writer/director Panos Cosmatos has created possibly the most perfect platform for Cage to dial it to 11, working logically within the film itself. If you look at Face/Off as an example. That whole set up felt perfectly tuned for both Cage and Travolta. It logically allowed both to chew scenery. It felt right and it felt natural. To an extent the sheer brilliance of Face/Off lies in that third point switch where essentially, Cage and Travolta do impressions of each other over-acting, and then in turn crank up their own performances a notch higher. It’s wonderfully meta.
Mandy looks exquisite. A blend of arthouse, exploitation, grindhouse, psychological horror, bloody horror. Giallo infused colouring. Then we have Cage central to all this, seemingly digging incredibly deep within his soul and expelling his character like he’s been possessed by a demon. I hope the reviews and the trailer don’t oversell, because this is now my most anticipated film of the year. Apart from anything else, it just looks uniquely ‘Mandy.’ Its own beast. In a time where cinemas are largely inhabited by remakes, reboots and adaptations. Whilst certain influences can be seen in the look of Mandy, there seems to be something dazzlingly unique about it. Like the truly great video nasties of the 80’s or the best in cult cinema. I think of a film like The Hitcher. It has exploitation elements and simple horror tropes, but aside all this it is wonderfully surreal with staggeringly beautiful cinematography and an exceptional performance from Rutger Hauer. It’s a film in which we recognise generic horror elements, but that has been delivered in a wonderfully unique package (for perfect comparison see the dreadfully generic remake).
To see Cage unleashed, uninhabited but also creatively inspired, is a wonderful thing. The internet generation, the meme lovers, know of Vampire’s Kiss as the ‘You don’t say’ face. Or from YouTube clips. Vampire’s Kiss is another example (for better and worse) of a really one off, unique film. It’s utterly bonkers. Perhaps it works better split into video highlights than as a complete film, but I still enjoyed watching it and like many who go back to watch Vampire’s Kiss, they do so having discovered its existence through gifs, memes and YouTube clips. The simple breakdown is that Cage believes he’s turning into a vampire. It’s so immensely overacted, to become logical within the film. It gets to a point you cannot envision someone playing this with subtlety and the film working. Cage himself is proud of his work in this, marking it as one of his favourite roles.
In a year that has seen a ream of rather flat VOD premieres with Cage (where his hair becomes the performance piece), it would seem that we will also get treated to two vintage deliveries of unhinged magic with Mom and Dad but more excitingly, in Mandy and wouldn’t it be great to see the Academy recognise a film so indie, so unrestrained, so beautifully yin and yang of brow?
A version of this article was posted in June 2018.