MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

In Which We Discuss the Need for Nicolas Cage to Stop Making Bad Movies

I like Nicolas Cage, but he needs a new agent.

Whatever happened to the Cage who started out making films like Racing with the MoonPeggy Sue Got MarriedRaising Arizona and Moonstruck? Or the later Cage, who intrigued with potent, evocative performances in Wild at Heart and Leaving Las Vegas? Or even the Cage who carried solid, action-packed films like The Rock (one of the few Michael Bay films that are worth watching) or Face/Off? There was a time when I looked forward to seeing a new Nic Cage film, when his talent on screen, combined with an ability to discern which scripts were worth making, made a new Nic Cage film something to at least be interested in, if not excited about. But these days, his choices tend more toward the explosion-packed and banal than the engaging and brilliant. And I miss the other Nic Cage.

There have been a few good Cage films in the last few years — I loved him in 2002’s Adaptation, which was some of the best work of his entire career, and even quite liked both The Family Man and The Weather Man, which divided critics. But over the past several years, you’re more likely to have seen Cage in a truly bad film; his recent resume is littered with crap like the National Treasure films (banal Indiana Jones rip-offs), The Wicker Man (badly executed and just plain stupid), Ghost Rider (don’t even get me started on that one), Bangkok Dangerous (he does get points on that one for at least making an indie effort with some interesting filmmakers, but did that one even make it into theaters at all?) …and, most recently, the abysmally bad Knowing.

In relatively mediocre films like The Family Man, Cage’s performance has elevated the material far beyond the promise of the script, and even in dreck like National Treasure or Knowing, Cage himself isn’t usually bad, although he tends more toward one-note emoting and a singular facial expression in films that aren’t intellectually challenging. He needs a strong script and sure-handed director to perform at the top of his game. But the scripts he’s chosen lately have been largely wretched, so bad that you have to wonder if he’s even reading these scripts himself, or just relying on his agent to guide him to projects that might have some box office potential or a decent payday rather than those that are worth making to begin with. Did he really read the scripts for some of these films and think to himself, “Yeah, those films are going to boost my rep as a serious actor?” At least with Knowing, for all that the final product is pretty dreadful, you could argue there was a seed of a better idea in there somewhere that just didn’t make it to the screen, but still.

I’m tired of seeing Cage in an endless parade of action films packed with special effects and explosions. There are plenty of guys out there who can take a mediocre film and keep it at that level to satisfy the mainstream box office crowd; I want to see Cage challenging himself and upping his game again.

In reviews of his films, Cage is sometimes referred to as a one-note actor, an allegation I think is somewhat unfair, given the overall body of his work. He’s capable of deeper, more nuanced acting than a film likeKnowing or Ghost Rider or The Wicker Man allows. In both The Family Man and The Weather Man, for instance, he portrayed quite evocatively men who were struggling with aspects of real-life: the values by which one lives, the choices one makes around how to live the life one is given. The Family Man, while a bit of an emotionally manipulative heartstring-tugger, at least had an interesting idea of exploring a path in life not taken, which is interesting from a philosophical standpoint. And The Weather Man (which Roger Ebert featured in his Overlooked Film Festival, aka Ebertfest) gave Cage room to explore the heart and soul of a man who’d lost his moral barometer and struggled with where to go from there.

In a lot of ways, The Weather Man evokes where Cage himself is in his career right now. Is he going to be the serious, talented, interesting actor he’s capable of being? Or will he continue to follow the money trail of mediocrity for the rest of his career? Perhaps Cage should take a long, hard look at some of the script choices he’s made and spend some time pondering how he wants his film career to be remembered thirty or forty years from now. Will he go down in cinematic history as the once-promising young actor who lost his touch and sunk into the murky realms of bad movies for his entire later career? Or will he, at some point, make a serious comeback for the acting he’s capable of giving?

By choosing to continue making films like Knowing, Cage acts to the detriment of both his fans and himself. He’s capable of better, so much better, and I want to see that Nic Cage again. I want to see that passion, that raw energy, that sense of wisdom gleaned from a life of good and bad choices, that powerful emotional range that we’ve seen from him in the past. I want to see him reach inside himself and show us something real, something honest, something better than what we’ve seen of late.

I don’t want to see anymore of Cage in crappy action films. Enough is enough. When people see your name in a trailer and think, “Oy, another Nic Cage action film? Pass.” instead of, “Wow, that new Nic Cage film looks really intriguing,” it’s time to consider reassessing the career choices you’re making as an actor. If he wants (or needs) to make the occasional bad film to pay the bills, fine, but toss those of us who once loved the Nic Cage of old a critical bone now and again by taking on some dramatically challenging, artistic work that exercises the acting chops. Give us reason to hope that a Nic Cage movie might offer something more than standard effects-heavy mainstream box office fodder.

The only thing promising on the Cage horizon right now is the Werner Herzog remake of Bad Lieutenant, which I at least feel hopeful about because of Herzog’s presence. But I want to see Cage push himself to the next level; I want to see him collaborate again with the Coens or Spike Jonze or Charlie Kaufman or David Lynch. Or I want Darren Aronofsky or David Fincher to find or write a great script tailor-made to bring back the Cage I once loved to watch on screen. I want him to make a film that blows away critics at Cannes or Toronto, something that really knocks our socks off. I know that he’s capable of it … the question is, will the next 20 or so years of his career ever get back on a track to better and stronger films? Or will he continue further down the action-film chute and go out as that guy who had great promise, once, and wasted it all? I hope it’s not the latter.

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon