By John H. Foote
(****) In theatres
The greatest group of actors to emerge through the 80s includes Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicolas Cage. All have won Academy Awards and countless critics awards; each has in some way elevated the films they have been in.
Among that notable list, Nicolas Cage stands out for me as the bravest actor in movies, the one willing to take the greatest risks, fearlessly diving into roles that demand him to go for broke.
Tom Gormican directs this film with absolute confidence in his leading man, and a huge degree of admiration for Cage, evident on every frame of the film.
No other actor, with the exception of Jack Nicholson, has walked the line of going over the top with glee. I interviewed Cage in 2003 for his superb performance as an anxiety-plagued conman, diagnosed with OCD in Matchstick Men, which should have earned him an Academy Award nomination. We chatted more about the art and craft of acting, the performances he most admires and the risks he has taken, though I made clear my admiration for the movie. In fact, I made clear my intense admiration for most of his work, as far back as Valley Girl (1983).
Consider the chance he took when cast in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), directed by his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola. It is easy to forget that Cage was born a Coppola. Wildly over the top as the young Charlie, seen in the time travel scenes as Peggy returns to her high school days. With a goofy voice, and strange persona, Cage engaged the wrath of the critics for his work, yet as a trained actor, I understood where he was going and what he trying to do. Did it work? Not entirely, but goddam it was brave. Much of his career has been like that. Those same critics who attacked his work as the young man in Peggy Sue Got Married were not paying attention to his “weight of the world on his shoulders” older man in the same film.
From Raising Arizona (1987), Moonstruck (1987), Wild at Heart (1990), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Guarding Tess (1994), Face Off (1996), Adaptation (2002), Matchstick Men (2003), Bad Lieutenant (2009) right through to Pig (2021), Cage is among the greatest actors of his generation and to be fair, one of the finest in the history of the cinema. No one risks more than he does in a role, takes the chances he takes. It does not always work, but he can be mesmerising when it does.
Imagine being asked to play yourself in an action-comedy film. A high-octane thriller with wild action sequences, incredible stunts and you are required to keep your tongue planted firmly in your cheek as yourself? Only Cage. Well maybe John Malkovich too.
Not getting great offers to act, his agent, a harried Neil Patrick Harris, gets an offer from a mysterious billionaire in Spain willing to pay Cage $1M to show up at his birthday party. He agrees and heads to this palatial mansion with sprawling property (like a movie star estate) and finds his host to be a terrific, enormously likeable guy … and the most wanted drug lord on the planet. Javi is very different from the warm host he has encountered and bonded with; he is a ruthless killer. The moment Cage meets Javi (Pedro Pascal) they are best friends, soulmates on a level neither has experienced. Javi is a true fan with a massive and expensive Cage museum that stuns Cage himself, the drug dealer adores Cage and to everyone’s great surprise, they become fast friends.
And then Cage discovers, when spotted by the DEA/FBI agents trying to nail Javi, that his friend is under tight surveillance. When they discover Cage on the inner circle, they demand his help. Having seen enough films and TV shows to know that Javi will make Cage disappear if he discovers Cage is working with the authorities. But he is equally torn because he truly likes Javi.
I once had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Scorsese and we spent 95% of the interview talking about films he loves, films that do not get the attention they deserve, and HIS FILMS. Movie stars and directors love talking about movies, any movie.
The film is both a spoof of a drug cartel and the inner operations and a male bonding film, however goofy. Cage is wonderful as himself, but we know this is but a variation of the Cage persona. The confidence to do this is mind boggling, as the risk to make a complete ass of yourself stands tall. But Cage is far too fine an actor to ever look foolish.
Pedro Pascal is terrific as Javi, a wide-eyed fan, and Neil Patrick Harris perfectly slimy as Cage’s agent, pushing the actor to work so he can get his cut.
I laughed out loud often, which never happens and found myself buried in the story. Silly, exciting, frightening and often moving. It is a very good film.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.