The Best and Worst of Nicolas Cage
Nic Cage started with a few minor roles, moved to comedy and drama and pretty soon became a household name. Now, everybody knows who Nicolas Cage is, whether it's from The Rock or from National Treasure. Nic is probably one of the most versatile actors out there, covering every genre imaginable. Over four decades, Nic has proven his talent time and time again. He's made us laugh, made us cry, warmed our hearts and broke them all the same. In this article, I will list the five best and five worst films of his career. As usual, there will be a complete rated filmography at the bottom.
Best #1: Bringing Out the Dead
Bringing Out the Dead is one of those films that you can't quite forget for a long time. Directed by the brilliant Martin Scorsese, the film follows a paramedic who is haunted by the people he couldn't save, one young girl in particular. He tries drinking to dull his mind, but the ghosts always come back. While on a call one night, he meets a woman whose father has had a massive heart attack. In an attempt to ease his own pain, he tries to help her as she struggles to make it through each day with the worry that her father may die any day.
Nicolas Cage delivers an amazing performance, capturing a tortured, haunted soul brilliantly. Patricia Arquette was emotionally moving, making us feel sorry for her and making us hurt with her. The best of all was the directing. Not only did Scorsese capture loss and grief perfectly, but he also captured the side of paramedics that not many see: the hurt, lonely, broken spirits that many carry. I give the film a 4 out of 4.
Best #2: Leaving Las Vegas
Leaving Las Vegas follows a man who has lost everything: his wife, his job, and his will to live. He no longer cares about life and doesn't see the point in living. He gathers up his belongings and sets them outside his home for whoever wants them. He gets in his car with nothing but the clothes on his back and heads to Las Vegas. After cashing the severance pay from his former employer, he decides to commit suicide by drinking himself to death.
I think what makes this film so effective is the brutal honesty behind it. It isn't afraid to show you a man who has fallen into the deep pit of depression and it isn't afraid to show you the grim reality of being unable to climb back out of it. What many people fail to understand is that depression isn't something one can just "get over". It's a lifelong struggle that some can live with but there are some that can't. What this film portrays is that sometimes the depression is so strong that no amount of love and affection can save them. When someone loses the will to live, it's nearly impossible to bring them back from the edge of the proverbial cliff. I felt that the writing, acting, and direction were all superb. Not many films can reach the depths that this one did, and I applaud everyone involved for making this film possible. I give it a 4 out of 4.
Best #3: 8MM (Eight Millimeter)
Have you ever had a film that shook you to the point where you were practically traumatized? Many might say Jaws or some other shark attack film, which is understandable. But what about a film that takes place on land, a little closer to home? That's what 8MM did. It put the ugly truth out there and forced you to see it up close, to make you realize this stuff is real and it happens far too often.
The film follows a private investigator who is hired by a rich woman to investigate a film reel which she found in her husband's safe after his death. It appeared to be a snuff film, and the woman wanted to know why her husband had it and if the young woman in it was okay. As the investigation deepens, so does the sinister truth.
There are some major players in this film - Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, and Peter Stormare being four of them. They all took their roles seriously, even to a majorly dark level, and delivered some of the best performances of their careers.
The fact of the matter is, this film may be fiction but a lot of what it portrays is the shocking truth. Young girls run away from home, hoping to make it big in Hollywood, only to be found by the wrong people and persuaded to do horrible things all for the promise of making it big someday. Many of them go missing, or even get killed and buried, never to be seen again. This film should most definitely be taken seriously and something needs to be done to save these young people from an unnecessary grim fate. I give the film a 4 out of 4.
Best #4: Adaptation
Adaptation is a mock biography of Charlie Kaufman's struggle to adapt a book into a screenplay. Nicolas Cage plays a dual role as Charlie Kaufman and his nonexistent brother Donald Kaufman. The film was extremely taxing on Nic, as it would be for pretty much anyone. According to interviews with Cage, he would start with the brother that fit his mood that day. He would act as Donald, then later would act as Charlie. Not only was he playing two roles, but he was also capturing two moods. Donald's more upbeat and happy while Charlie is more of a sad and grumpy person. Going back and forth between the two on a daily basis couldn't have been easy, and was probably exhausting, but Nic should be proud of his accomplishment because this film is fantastic. It can be comedic, dramatic, downright awkward, uplifting, and heartbreaking. Adaptation is pretty much everything you could want in a film and truly captures what each one of us feels at certain points in our lives. I give it a 4 out of 4.
Best #5: Joe
Joe follows ex-con Joe who runs his own "business". He and his group of men are hired to poison trees in order to make way for tree cutters to come through and cut down the dead trees in the area. One day, a young boy named Gary wanders onto his job site requesting work. Joe gives him a chance, and begins to form a bond with the boy. Joe learns that Gary's father Wade is abusive and steals all of Gary's wages in order to buy more alcohol. Joe learns of this and, although he initially doesn't want to get involved, he decides to help Gary any way he can.
Joe is a remarkable film that not only speaks volumes on the human condition but also shows that even the most unlikely of people can change. Joe may have been an ex-con, but he was also a victim of circumstance. He was wild at heart (a recurring theme in Cage's films) but he also did care for people in general. Taking Gary under his wing was almost a way of trying to forgive himself for losing touch with his own family, and also a way to find redemption. The film is deep and methodical and is a redemption story that is definitely worth seeing. I give the film a 4 out of 4.
Honorable Mention: Lord of War
Lord of War is a necessary film, especially with the state the world's in today. The film tells the true story of the rise and fall of Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer that sold to anyone, well almost anyone. He didn't sell to Osama bin Laden, not because of morality though. "Back then, he was always bouncing checks."
The film's narrative style works splendidly. It makes it feel like the story is being told by Yuri himself rather than trying to overdramatize certain events like some true story films tend to do.
The acting is top-notch, especially from Cage and Jared Leto. Ethan Hawke and Ian Holm also deliver, giving the story a good villain and a good hero. The question is, who is the real villain? While most would say Yuri, I think the actual villain of the film is evil itself. Yuri came from a poor family and just wanted to make money. He enjoyed weaponry, finding it to be fascinating. He decided to start selling guns and pretty soon the greed took hold. He started selling to armies and countries and financing both sides of wars. It wasn't until later in his life that he looked around and questioned the morality of his work, beginning to understand that guns in the wrong hands is an evil thing. The philosophical questions that are raised are quite brilliant, which makes the viewer really think and consider the rights and wrongs of the situation.I give the film a 4 out of 4.
"They say 'Evil prevails when good men do nothing'. What they should really say is 'evil prevails'." - Yuri Orlov
Now, we move on to the dreaded "Worst" section. Sometimes a film suffers from the script, whether it be a bad plot or bad dialogue, and sometimes the film suffers from issues behind the screen. The following selections have a wide range of issues, but none of them are any one person's fault, but rather several.
Worst #1: Deadfall
Deadfall really could have been good if the writers and director had tried a little bit harder. The acting, for one, was quite horrible. The plot started out good but eventually dwindled to the point that there were fakeout twists to try and keep the audience invested when they were already halfway out of the door by then. Even Nic was at his lowest here, his performance so over-the-top that it was almost laughable. He had a couple of good moments but not enough to save the film. What's probably the most painful is all the talent that was sucked into this mess - Nicolas Cage, Peter Fonda, Talia Shire, Charlie Sheen, and Christopher Coppola being the main five that come to mind. Everyone thankfully did go on to redeem themselves later in their careers, except for poor Talia who had already hit her high with five Rocky films before this. She went on to play bit parts and mainly stayed out of the spotlight, still doing so today. I give Deadfall a 1 out of 4.
Worst #2: The Wicker Man
Nicolas Cage himself has said that The Wicker Man was written as an absurdist black comedy and that it should be treated as such. While that is true in many cases throughout this film, there is still a horror tone that frequently runs in and out like a child that can't decide between indoors and outdoors. The tonal clashes are what ultimately kill the film, turning what could have been a great homage to the original into a dark parody of sorts. Probably the only good thing about the film is Nic Cage's no-holds-barred performance which allowed him to go all-in and be as sane or as insane as he wanted. I give the film a 1 out of 4.
Worst #3: Zandalee
It seems that every actor at one point or another has a steamy erotic film that tried to be new and daring. William Hurt had Body Heat, Mickey Rourke had 9 1/2 Weeks, Tom Cruise had Eyes Wide Shut, and Dakota Johnson had the Fifty Shades trilogy. Nicolas Cage tried his hand at the genre, resulting in Zandalee. I did like how the film showed how easily obsession can get out of hand and how hard it can be to say no sometimes. What I didn't like was how unapologetic it was. The sexual scenes were borderline rape and weren't erotic at all. It was more abusive than anything which made me wonder why Zandalee was ever in any conflict about which man she loved. If anything, you felt sorry for Judge Reinhold's character, who was a man that was unable to please his wife and was driven mad by the very thought that he failed her. While the performances were all convincing and well done, the erotica part was tossed off the cliff and we were left with aggravation and disappointment. I give the film a 1.5 out of 4.
Worst #4: Bangkok Dangerous
Bangkok Dangerous was one of those films that you watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon because nothing else is on. It had no coherent plot or reasoning. It was literally just a bunch of hitmen running around trying to take each other down. While Nic's character attempted to have love and have a life outside of his dark job, the film couldn't really focus on that and instead moved too fast for its own good. The action scenes were probably the only good parts about the film and even those were barely held together. I give the film a 1.5 out of 4.
Worst #5: Left Behind
I was excited for Left Behind when I first heard it was being rebooted with Nicolas Cage in the lead. I thought that perhaps they'd improve on the original and even delve further into the books. Sadly, it didn't. While The Rapture scene did give me goosebumps, it was nowhere near as effective as the original was. Kirk Cameron's film may have had an even lower budget and it may have had choppy acting, but it succeeded where this one failed. Kirk's film had conviction and love behind it. It had a sense of urgency and the need to reach as many people as possible. Nic's film had worse acting and even worse stereotypes. It bugs me greatly that these "faith" films tend to show unbelievers as all horrible people and believers as peaceful people. Some of the most amazing people I know are unbelievers and some of the most judgmental and violent people I know are believers. I would like these faith films to show that there's good and bad in every group and that there are good people that will be left behind because they didn't truly believe. Kirk's film did a wonderful job in that area, capitalizing on Pastor Bruce Barnes being a good person who was left behind because he didn't truly believe. He spoke the words but he didn't really believe what he was saying. That's realistic.
Also, as I mentioned before, Nic's film gave me goosebumps during the Rapture sequence and, while it's effective to a point, Kirk's film had me in tears for most of the film. I truly hope someday that a filmmaker will come along and make a Left Behind film that's both realistic and sticks to prophecy. I give Nic's film a 1.5 out of 4.
Dishonorable Mention: USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage
I was hoping against all hope that USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage would be a great film. I love true stories, especially war-time stories. While Nicolas Cage, just like every other actor, has his stinker films and his great films, I wanted Indianapolis to be among the greats. As a loyal Cage-ite I can say that for the most part I enjoyed the film's story and acting. As a film reviewer and critic, I am saddened by the inexcusable level of inaccuracy the film portrayed.
For those that don't know, the film follows the survivors of the USS Indianapolis after its sinking by two Japanese sub torpedoes. The survivors were stranded in shark-infested water for 4 and a half days before finally being rescued.
After seeing the film, I listened to the account of some of the survivors and read up on the incident on Smithsonian and Wikipedia. For the most part, the film got the events right. Where it flops is the fact that there was no attention to detail, from the lingo to the uniforms to Naval protocol. Also, the USS Alabama was used in the film to represent the Indianapolis. The problem with that is, the Alabama is a battleship and the Indianapolis was a cruiser. The look was all wrong.
I see people say the CGI was horrible and it ruined the film. Well blah-di-blah. There was barely any CGI in the film. The opening 30 minutes had CGI and that was it. While yes, it was bad, it wasn't overpowering. I guarantee you the same people complaining are the same people that own all five Sharknado movies. Now THAT is bad CGI.
The survivors are seen attacked by Great White sharks. While many accounts from survivors did in fact state there were 3 or 4 men a day die from shark attacks, they never specified what kind of sharks they were. At least two accounts state the sharks were 15 feet long. Considering the ship was between Guam and the Philippines, it's highly unlikely the sharks were Great Whites as the film portrayed. Historians believe that they were Oceanic Whitetip sharks. They are just as deadly, however, the correct shark should have been used for the film rather than going with the most popular kind.
There are spoilers here, but I do need to specify that Captain McVay's death was also misrepresented. The film depicts him committing suicide inside his home, in uniform, looking at a small toy soldier that he received as a boy. In reality, McVay was outside on his front lawn holding the soldier while he shot himself.
In conclusion, I really wanted this film to be amazing. In story, it was. It was the inaccurate detail and misrepresentation of certain historical facts that was the film's ultimate downfall. I give the film a 1.5 out of 4.
An Hour with Nicolas Cage
Because Nic only had cameos in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Industrial Symphony No. 1, neither will be included in the filmography. Sonny is included, however, because he directed it.
- Best of Times - 2.5 out of 4
- Valley Girl - 3.5 out of 4
- Rumble Fish - 3 out of 4
- Racing with the Moon - 4 out of 4
- The Cotton Club - 3 out of 4
- Birdy - 3.5 out of 4
- The Boy in Blue - 3.5 out of 4
- Peggy Sue Got Married - 3 out of 4
- Raising Arizona - 3.5 out of 4
- Moonstruck - 3 out of 4
- Vampire's Kiss - 2 out of 4
- Time to Kill - 2.5 out of 4
- Wild at Heart - 3 out of 4
- Fire Birds - 2 out of 4
- Zandalee - 1.5 out of 4
- Honeymoon in Vegas - 3.5 out of 4
- Amos and Andrew - 2.5 out of 4
- Red Rock West - 4 out of 4
- Deadfall - 1 out of 4
- Guarding Tess - 3 out of 4
- It Could Happen to You - 3.5 out of 4
- Trapped in Paradise - 3 out of 4
- Kiss of Death - 2 out of 4
- Leaving Las Vegas - 4 out of 4
- The Rock - 3 out of 4
- Con Air - 2.5 out of 4
- Face/Off - 3.5 out of 4
- City of Angels - 3 out of 4
- Snake Eyes - 2.5 out of 4
- 8MM (Eight Millimeter) - 4 out of 4
- Bringing Out the Dead - 4 out of 4
- Gone in 60 Seconds - 2.5 out of 4
- The Family Man - 4 out of 4
- Captain Corelli's Mandolin - 3 out of 4
- A Christmas Carol - 4 out of 4
- Windtalkers - 3 out of 4
- Sonny - 3.5 out of 4
- Adaptation - 4 out of 4
- Matchstick Men - 3 out of 4
- National Treasure - 2.5 out of 4
- Lord of War - 4 out of 4
- The Weather Man - 3.5 out of 4
- The Ant Bully - 3 out of 4
- World Trade Center - 3.5 out of 4
- The Wicker Man - 1 out of 4
- Ghost Rider - 2.5 out of 4
- Next - 3 out of 4
- National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets - 3 out of 4
- Bangkok Dangerous - 1.5 out of 4
- Knowing - 3 out of 4
- G-Force - 2 out of 4
- Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans - 3.5 out of 4
- Astro Boy - 2 out of 4
- Kick-Ass - 4 out of 4
- The Sorcerer's Apprentice - 3 out of 4
- Season of the Witch - 2.5 out of 4
- Drive Angry - 3 out of 4
- Seeking Justice - 3 out of 4
- Trespass - 2 out of 4
- Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - 2 out of 4
- Stolen - 3 out of 4
- The Croods - 2 out of 4
- The Frozen Ground - 3.5 out of 4
- Joe - 4 out of 4
- Rage - 3 out of 4
- Outcast - 2 out of 4
- Left Behind - 1.5 out of 4
- Dying of the Light - 3.5 out of 4
- The Runner - 3 out of 4
- Pay the Ghost - 3 out of 4
- The Trust - 3.5 out of 4
- Dog Eat Dog - 2.5 out of 4
- Snowden - 3.5 out of 4
- USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage - 1.5 out of 4
- Army of One - 3 out of 4
- Arsenal - 2 out of 4
- Vengeance: A Love Story - 2 out of 4
- Inconceivable - 2.5 out of 4
- Mom and Dad - 2.5 out of 4
- Looking Glass - 2.5 out of 4
- The Humanity Bureau - 3.5 out of 4
- 211 - 2.5 out of 4
- Teen Titans Go! To the Movies - 1.5 out of 4
- Mandy - N/A - only released at Sundance, not publicly yet
What is Your Favorite Nicolas Cage Film?
Whether you love his unique style or not, Nicolas Cage is undoubtedly talented. He abandoned blockbusters to work on indie films so that he could break the mold of what the big-time studios want him to do and focus on where he wants to take the character. I personally love his style and can't wait to see what he dishes out next.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Alec Zander