19 April 2024

Film Review – The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

The enigma of Nicolas Cage is as astounding and unique as the man himself and, over the decades that he has been burning up our screens, it has only grown stronger and more profound. Bursting into our lives in the mid-1980s with turns in Valley Girl, Birdy, and a trio of films directed by Francis Ford Coppola (Rumble Fish, The Cotton Club, and Peggy Sue Got Married, the latter of which was perhaps his breakout role), Cage has been ever-present on the screen since then but in recent years, has been somewhat confined to the straight-to-video market with some choices that have been both “barmy good” (Mandy, Mom And Dad) and “barmy bad” (The Frozen Ground, Kill Chain, Left Behind). But like the eclectic performer, we shouldn’t have expected anything less than the wild ride of filmography that he has given us and his new film sees him taking on his craziest to date: playing himself. Sort of. And, whether you want to label it a comeback or not, one thing is for sure: it’s one of his greatest ever turns.

Nick Cage is an actor on the edge. Having enjoyed enormous success throughout his career with hits such as The Rock, Con Air, National Treasure, and many more, he suddenly finds himself struggling to keep himself relevant in the ever-changing landscape of Hollywood. Desperate for the lead role in a new film directed by Halloween helmer David Gordon Green (who appears as himself), Cage auditions for him in a hotel car park but ultimately loses out. Yet, his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) may have something to take his mind off his career and broken family (Sharon Horgan and Lily Sheen play his fictitious ex-wife and daughter), and help his financial stresses: an invitation to appear at uber-fan Javi’s (Pedro Pascal) birthday party. Reluctantly, Nick agrees but soon realises that this isn’t going to be all sun, sea, and cocktails when two FBI agents (Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish) apprehend him to tell him some home truths about his “fan”.

The idea for the film certainly sent some shockwaves through the industry when it was touted a couple of years ago and even now, when you tell people what the film is about, there is a look of confusion for a few seconds before the idea settles in their brains. Nicolas Cage is playing himself?? Is it like Being John Malkovich or something? The answer, simply, is that he is playing himself but a slightly different version to the one we know. For you MCU fans out there, think of this as a Cage “variant” and the premise might make more sense. The brainchild of writers Tom Gormican (who also directs) and Kevin Etten, this isn’t just a story of an actor “playing himself”, this is a satirical and sharp observational comedy about Hollywood and the elite that dominates it. Exploring the parallel dimension that those in the upper echelons of the land of dreams seemingly live in, this is more biting commentary than just an endless stream of in-jokes and nods to Cage’s career. Sure, we do get those things (the use of young “Wogan-era” Cage as some sort of Ghost of Cage Past is superbly well utilised) but this is smarter and more shrewd than it might have seemed from the outset. 

Indeed, Gormican and Etten’s acute screenplay merges real life, the film world, and the blurred lines of “metaphysical” to such a brilliant degree that it elevates the premise beyond what any of us were anticipating. Cage, of course, is key to the film’s success and you can certainly see why he may have been hesitant initially, turning the film down various times before a letter from Gormican convinced him to read the script. Thankfully, he saw the light and produces his best performance since Adaptation, and like that meta-infused masterpiece, he revels in stepping outside his box of tricks while still keeping one foot firmly planted in his manic, German Expressionistic toy box. Indeed, alongside the equally brilliant Pedro Pascal, the two are a barrel of fun the whole way through, and, for the first time since perhaps Dumb & Dumber, we have a duo that is both funny and heartfelt and perfect for one another, as performers and as co-stars. And, in a cinema landscape that is screaming out for some originality amongst the monsters of IP and franchise, who better to help with the chaotic screams than Nick f***ing, wooooooo Cage?!

★★★★


Comedy, Action| 2022 | Lionsgate | 15 | Dir: Tom Gormican | Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Lily Sheen, Sharon Horgan


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