Depending on the movie in question, Nicolas Cage is either one of the best actors of his generation or a no-talent nutjob who was lucky enough to have a famous director for an uncle. While most actors experience their share of highs and lows throughout the course of their careers, Cage’s filmography is like a game of Russian roulette – you never know what to expect. Granted, he’s never been known for his subtlety, but even at his most outrageous, there’s always a chance that he can make a movie better.
More often than not, however, it just winds up as part of some hilarious video montage for our enjoyment. Even stranger is the way that it seems to happen in cycles. These last two years have seen the actor at the top of his game with memorable roles in “Kick-Ass” and “Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans,” while 2011 promises to deliver some surefire duds with “Season of the Witch” and “Drive Angry.” It seemed like the perfect opportunity for the Bullz-Eye staff to put together a list of his best and worst performances, but with so many to choose from, it was a lot harder than we thought.
Charlie Kaufman has written some of the most original movies of the last decade, but “Adaptation” is probably his best thanks to an incredible (and surprisingly reserved) performance from Nicolas Cage, who plays a fictionalized version of the screenwriter as he struggles to finish the script for the very film that the audience is watching. It’s all very meta like Kaufman’s other movies, but what separates it from the rest is seeing Cage tackle a character that’s so far off from anything he’s done before. Donning a balding wig and carrying a few extra pounds, Cage is just oozing desperation as the sweaty, neurotic loner. What makes the performance even more impressive is that he does it twice – also playing Charlie’s fabricated twin brother, Donald, who represents the real-life Kaufman’s problems with the Hollywood system. Though they’re physically identical, Donald is the complete opposite of his brother – a happy-go-lucky ladies man who’s able to knock out a million-dollar script on his first try. It’s a remarkable feat for an actor who tends to get a little out of control at times, and whether or not director Spike Jonze had anything to do with keeping him on a short leash, it’s what ultimately makes the role one of his absolute best. – Jason Zingale
“Leaving Las Vegas” (1995)
Preparing to make the film version of the late John O’Brien’s novel of boozy suicide, Nicolas Cage told Roger Ebert that he watched all the great Hollywood portrayals of alcoholics. The actor made sure that Ben Sanderson was different from all of them because he is different. To Ben, death is not an inconvenient outcome of gargantuan liquor consumption, it’s a key ingredient in the cocktail. As he calmly tells Sera, his slightly less damaged prostitute love (Elisabeth Shue), his plan is to drink himself to death in a city where last call never arrives. Neither Ben, nor Mike Figgis’s movie, has any interest in 12 Steps, rehab, or anything else that might extend his life. The film is an unapologetically romantic love story but not a redemption story in the usual sense, nor does Cage sell alcoholism short. From Ben romping through a supermarket liquor section in the brilliant first shot to his hyper-dramatic, gross overtures to random women, assorted humiliations, and the brutal, bluntly sexual and heartbreaking final scene with Shue, Cage shows us both the temporary fun of drunkenness and that his grief-destroyed ex-family man is suffering from a gruesome illness. We are also aware of the enormous sweetness and pain that would attract Sera, despite the obvious drawbacks of loving a suicidal drunk, and that Ben, like Cage, is a born manic entertainer. – Bob Westal