It’s time to do a roundup of the movies featuring Nicolas Cage that Rachael and I watched this past week and say something halfway intelligible about them. If this ends up being a short post, then we’ll just explain it away as a phenomenon of Nicolas Cage’s presence in the universe.
Frozen Ground – Nic Cage stars as a police detective who’s two weeks away from leaving his job in homicide to go do some other ill defined thing when a lead on a series of unsolved murders in the Alaskan wilderness presents itself in the form of a young prostitute who reports that she was kidnapped and raped by a client. It’s a very by-the-book serial killer drama that highlights all the most problematic elements of the genre (maintaining the narrative that sexual violence is only carried out by social aberrants, claiming to take issues of sexual violence seriously while simultaneously objectifying women, etc.) with nothing particularly outstanding about it. Cage’s performance is very workmanlike, since he doesn’t really try to stand out from the rest of the cast. Probably the most interesting thought I had while watching the movie is more related to Vanessa Hudgens than Nic Cage. It occurred to me that it’s highly problematic that someone like Hudgens, who began her career as a child actor for Disney, has transitioned into taking roles that see her objectified and sexualized, and this is what we call a maturation of a young actress.
Snake Eyes – This is easily the most ’90s of the Cage movies we watched this week (probably because it was the only movie we watched that was produced in the ’90s). Nic plays a crooked Atlantic City cop named Rick Santoro (Rachael and I just pretend it was actually Santorum, because that makes everything funnier) who becomes the lead investigator on the murder of a high profile government official at a boxing match. It turns out that his best friend, played by Gary Sinise, who was head of the official’s security detail orchestrated the murder, and so Santoro is put in a position where he has to choose between loyalty to his friend (and a nice payout for keeping quiet) and pursuing the investigation that will eventually draw attention to himself and his own shady dealings. Because this is the ’90s, Santoro makes the right choice and takes down his friend. Of course, then there’s a weird twist where instead of stopping the story at the high point, the movie has an ending montage that shows Santoro’s eventual investigation and disgrace, losing his job and his family. The only explanation I can give is the writers needed a way to culminate a romance between Cage and the female lead without having to deal with the complications of Cage’s character already being married. Snake Eyes is an objectively bad story, but it does enough interesting cinematography (lots of long shots of extended scenes, filming scenes from the first person perspective of whichever character is recounting a flashback) and has such a fun performance from Cage that I couldn’t stop watching. If you just want to see Nic Cage doing what he’s known for doing, you can pick a worse movie than Snake Eyes.
Joe – Rachael and I have sort of a soft spot for Southern Grotesque. We both enjoyed reading Flannery O’Connor in college, and movies like Winter’s Bone have a certain irresistible pull about them. I’d guess part of it is just the impulse to gawk at people with such alien lives, particularly when the alien nature is imbued through the status of extreme poverty in the community. Joe is such a movie. Nic plays the eponymous Joe, an ex-convict who’s also something of a pillar in his small rural community. He’s a local employer who offers a job on his tree killing crew to anyone who asks, has a friendly relationship with other local businesses (who are represented here by a small country store, the local brothel, and the local gambling den), and generally looks out for the marginalized among an already marginal group. Beyond that, he ends up becoming a mentor to a teenage boy who’s trying to find work to support his family in spite of his alcoholic father’s abuse. It’s a very dark movie, and all of the characters are flawed in believable ways. Unlike Frozen Ground, which also depicts a lot of highly sexist characters, Joe doesn’t implicitly endorse anyone’s more problematic behavior. In a lot of ways this is clearly one of those Oscar bait style movies with a heavy premise and really dark plotting, but it honestly works really well for me. Cage puts in an extremely serious performance that allows him to play with the manic rage that he’s so famous for, but in a way that’s more tortured than his typical characters. Joe is someone who really does struggle with rage, and Cage sells the tension between Joe’s temptation to lose control and need to avoid getting himself in more trouble than he’s already in.
Moonstruck – This one was recommended by a friend who only explained that Nic Cage plays romantic lead opposite Cher, and it’s hilarious. For the longest time, the only exposure I’d had to this movie was one scene where Cage’s character Johnny is flipping out over how his hand got cut off in a bread slicer. Out of context, the scene can read extremely dramatic (maiming typically isn’t one of those things that automatically makes me think “hilarious”), but in context it really is incredibly funny. The thing about Moonstruck is that it’s not just a romance; it’s a classical comedy of manners. All of the story’s tension revolves around the fact that Loretta (Cher) has engaged herself to marry a man she doesn’t love, and while he’s away visiting his dying mother in Sicily, she meets her fiance’s brother and falls in love with him. Because this is a movie about Italian-Americans living in New York City, the characters are very broadly sketched, and Cage’s character honestly isn’t the most out there (I’m inclined to go with the grandfather who has a small pack of pet dogs which he walks everywhere and lets urinate on fresh graves in churchyards). The ending, which has the potential for a lot of drama as Johnny invites himself over to Loretta’s parents’ house for breakfast to confront his brother, ends in a remarkably neat way with all of the film’s plot threads being wrapped up without much conflict at all. It has a fun performance by Cage back when he was in his twenties (which makes the romance between him and Cher’s character, who’s stated to be 37, a little weird in a, “I never expected a movie from the ’80s to make the guy significantly younger than the woman” way), and the rest of the cast is imminently watchable.
Racing with the Moon – When Nic Cage is on screen, this movie is watchable. This is one of his earliest roles (he was twenty), so everything he does is full of the manic energy that became his signature style later on. Honestly, when his character was around, I was interested in what was going on. Unfortunately, because this movie’s primarily a serious romance, more than half of the story is devoted to a couple of extremely boring characters who basically make doe eyes at one another for a while and then sigh resignedly when their friend Nicky (no joke, his character’s name is Nicky) does something stupid that they have to help him get out of. It’s nice to know that Cage was playing incredibly screwed up characters even at the beginning of his career; I wish this movie had been entirely about Nicky. Also of note is that Cage shares billing with Sean Penn in this movie, which is pretty cool since one of them went on to become a well-respected actor with a reputation for playing seething rage-a-holics, and the other went on to be Nicolas Cage.
And finally, because it’s always fun, here’s a supercut of Nic Cage flipping out.