Examining the Career of Nicolas Cage, Across All Media | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Examining the Career of Nicolas Cage, Across All Media 

More than 40 years into his career, the spring of 2022 has become the time to examine the cinematic and cultural legacy of Nicolas Cage

In early March, there was a fine profile of Cage, titled “Nicolas Cage Can Explain It All,” that appeared in GQ, authored by Gabriella Paiella. Later that month came Age of Cage: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career, a new book authored by veteran film journalist Keith Phipps that examined Cage’s life and career, through the lens of the many eras of both Cage’s career and the movie business itself over four decades.

Examining the Career of Nicolas Cage, Across All Media | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Then, in April, came The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a new movie in which Cage played himself, and the film’s entire conceit was to goof on Cage and his established screen persona. 

The movie, while offering an amusing premise and quite a few laughs, ultimately didn’t really have anything profound, daring, or new to say about Nicholas Cage, his persona, or his career. The profile, and the book, were much more satisfying and complete looks at what makes Nicolas Cage Nicolas Cage. 

All three of those works of media had a few things in common. All acknowledge that Nicolas Cage has been a notable actor for more than four decades, that he’s assembled a wildly eclectic body of work, and that he’s something of a strange dude in his offscreen life, something that extends to extensive money woes, a colorful romantic history, and a great deal of inner turmoil, much of it centered on his career status and the way he’s seen by his peers. They also all acknowledge that Cage seems rather self-aware about his place in the world, and in the motion picture business.

They also all acknowledge that Cage seems rather self-aware about his place in the world

The GQ article got a bit into the nitty-gritty of what happened with Cage and money, revealing that Cage finally finished paying off the IRS two years ago, after such purchases as multiple castles and various exotic animals, including a two-headed snake. It also has Cage on the record about his late father, August, the brother of Francis Ford Coppola, and what he meant to him. It’s a better and more in-depth celebrity profile than is typically the case, especially those about Cage himself. 

Cage did not sit for an interview for Phipps’ book, but he did endorse the book in a Rolling Stone interview. 

Examining the Career of Nicolas Cage, Across All Media | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

“Keith Phipps wrote this book [Age of Cage: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career] and he said some pretty articulate, intelligent things about the transformations the filmmaking industry has gone through in the 40 years I’ve been doing this,” Cage said. 

Indeed, it’s Age of Cage that’s the best recent examination of all things Cage. Phipps, who has spent years covering film for The AV Club, The Dissolve, and other sites, goes through virtually all of Cage’s films, analyzes them, and places them in the context of what the Hollywood trends were at the time they were made. 

The nephew of one of the great New Hollywood directors, Cage grew up and came of age in that milieu, even starring in a couple of his uncle’s movies in the ’80s (Peggy Sue Got Married and The Cotton Club). Cage’s career has been full of ups and downs, following the triumph of 1987’s Moonstruck with a long fallow period. 

He had a brief period in the early 1990s when he took on Jimmy Stewart-style good-guy roles (like Guarding Tess and It Could Happen to You), and later in that decade, he starred in a trilogy of bombastic and very beloved action-adventure movies, The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off. In the middle, he won his one Oscar for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas, a fine film that not many people have watched a second time. 

 Later on, Cage traded off blockbusters like the two National Treasure films with prestige fare like Adaptation and weird, esoteric indie movies, occasionally striking gold with one like Werner Herzog’s 2009 bugfuck insane Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, or Ridley Scott’s underrated Matchstick Men

Some of those lesser films led to 2010’s infamous “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit” supercut, by Harry Hanrahan, most of the final third of which is taken up by “highlights” from his infamous remake of The Wicker Man

Phipps clearly knows his stuff, having fascinating takes on the individual movies, Cage’s place in them, and the overall Hollywood picture at the time that each one was made. 

One thing not mentioned: Cage has worked with quite a few major directors exactly one time. He was never in a Coen brothers movie again after Raising Arizona, or a David Lynch movie after Wild at Heart, a Scorsese film after Bringing Out the Dead, or a Werner Herzog project after Bad Lieutenant. Spike Jonze has only directed two films in the 20 years since Adaptation, but Cage was in neither (though Jonze’s divorce from Cage’s cousin Sofia Coppola may have something to do with that).

Cage: The Movie

The book leads up to some of the more acclaimed movies Cage has starred in leading up to the present day, starting with Mandy and Pig, before noting that Cage was about to begin production on The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. 

The film itself is an extended riff on Cage’s on, and off-screen, persona, but it doesn’t quite borrow as deep as it otherwise could have, despite some serious laughs. 

Directed by Tom Gormican, who co-wrote with Kevin Etten, Unbearable Weight stars Cage as himself, at about the circa-2019 phase of his career, when he’s not quite an A-list star anymore, and facing money woes as a result (the film, while briefly acknowledging this, never delves too deeply into how Cage blew all those millions, which feels like a missed opportunity for comedy).

Eager for cash after missing out on a part, Cage accepts a million-dollar payday to appear at a birthday party for a wealthy Spanish superfan (Pedro Pascal), who may or may not be an international criminal. The two quickly bond, even though an action blockbuster keeps threatening to break out around them. It’s essentially the same conceit as another Cage film, Adaptation: the film, for meta-purposes, turns into a silly action movie in its third act. This plot also casts two very funny people — Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz — as FBI agents, but gives neither of them anything even remotely funny to do. 

Also, Cage is fearing that he’s growing apart from his teenage daughter (Lily Sheen, the daughter of Michael Sheen and Kate Beckinsale), who you may have guessed gets pulled into the action plot, along with Cage’s recent ex-wife (Sharon Horgan.) This part mostly doesn’t work, mostly because… the real-life Cage has no daughter, only sons, and he has four ex-wives spread out over many years, and not one to who he was married for a long period of time. 

The other gimmick here is that Cage, on two or three occasions, is visited by his younger self, de-aged to look like Cage circa Valley Girl, who confronts him about the state of his career. This leads to a handful of funny moments, but probably not enough to justify the massive chunk of the budget those de-aging effects likely cost the filmmakers. 

It doesn’t quite borrow as deep as it otherwise could have, despite some serious laughs

Most of what works here are some funny easter eggs devoted to specific films in Cage’s past, and a room/shrine featuring a huge collection of Cage memorabilia. Cage also gets to be funny, whether it’s over-emoting (in homage, perhaps to the “Losing His Shit” video) or in a sequence where he’s wearing funny makeup to imitate a mobster. 

If you’re a longtime Nicolas Cage fan, you’ll likely get some amusement out of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. But you’ll likely get a more complete look at the Cage mystique by reading either the GQ profile or Keith Phipps’ Age of Cage book. 

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

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