Cage against the Machine – How Nicolas Cage is turning Hollywood against itself

“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap”

Dolly Parton’s quote is one that the Academy Award winning nephew of Francis Ford Coppola has embraced and ran with.  In the first fifteen years of his career it was arguably one of the most interesting actors with a whole realm of potential having starred in Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart and the Neo-Noir Red Rock West… then something happened.  According to Sean Penn once he won his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas he simply stopped acting but what if that’s not the case?

Most actors want little more than the acceptance of their peers whether they want to want it or not it’s something that is strived for.  Upon winning his gold statue that was secured and Nicolas was able to relax, enjoy himself, raise his fee by another zero and go wild…Cage still.  What followed his performance in Leaving Las Vegas can only really be described as something between a mid career crisis and a career make over as he dropped the character driven pieces (and the mere idea of scripts) and proceeded with a spate of (buzz word alert!) high octane, high concept action flicks which included Con Air, Face/Off, The Rock¸ Gone in Sixty Seconds and Windtalkers each of them involving Cage acting with his hands a capital A and his best Elvis Presley impression.  These films cost a lot of money, they made him and the Studios a lot of money but they also look like they cost a lot of money.  Of late Cage has changed the pace again, the new direction came immedidately after appearing as Fu Manchu in the Rob Zombie directed trailer Werewolf Women of the SS (a clear nod to Ilsa She Wolf of the SS) in the Tarantino-Rodriguez experiment Grindhouse

Since then he’s been on a one man mission to make as many big budget exploitation films as possible and in the process have gave offerings like Bangkok Dangerous, Season of the Witch, Trespass and the clearest indication of his intent, the so terribly bad it’s dangerously close to being brilliant Drive Angry.  To the inattentive it might look like just another terrible Nicolas Cage movie that he’s clearly made for the moment but all the markers are present in the film to show you that it’s pure exploitation cinema and is either a act of career suicide of magnificent defiance from a man who’s always prided himself in making things more challenging (hence why he’s known as Nicolas Cage and not Nicolas Coppola).

Drive Angry as carsploitation is the most recently (and most faithful) rendering of exploitation cinema in recent years.  Like the films of the 70’s it contains heavy amount of motor usage and the essential element of exploitation i.e. a struggle between what’s grand and lofty and written on the page and what’s achieved by the talent involved in bringing the script to the screen.  What makes an exploitation an exploitation is the gulf between as it’s clear (whether for talent, money or other limitations) that these goals will not be met.  It also has a heavy amount of supernatural/occult which is another key element of exploitation cinema, see Werewolves on Wheels or the excellent Race with the Devil for examples of how motoring and the supernatural/occult go hand in hand in exploitation cinema.  Cage and Patrick Lussier (director) have taken a film that Executives budgeted at $50,000,000 to make and have made it look like a 1970’s exploitation film that would star Silvano Tranquilli, an arrangement that would most definitely not have been discussed with the suits in Pre-Production.

There have been a few exceptions to Cage’s career direction most notably Bad Lieutenant with director Werner Hertzog but even that is in keeping with the current ethos as Hertzog is not a director that hits happily into the Hollywood mold and (to his create) didn’t attempt to contain Hurricane Cage.  This produced Cage’s finest performance in years but even in Bad Lieutenant his over the top leaning allowed comparisons to the hard edged cop movies that the movement produced like The Violent Professionals and most fittingly The Stone Killer starring the wonderfully OTT Charles Bronson.

Cage has a rather unique way of seeing things and it’s something that’s taken us a while to realise.  The films he’s taking these days won’t be good films, played straight and starring any other actor they’ll be terrible so the least he can do is take them in another direction and potentially create something that wasn’t intended by those backing it or marketing it.  In a time of chasing the almighty dollar Nicolas Cage is putting out exploitation after exploitation film, defying the expectations of audiences everywhere and perhaps coax one of his uncle’s University of California classmates out of cinematic exile, a Mr. Jack Hill.

...and you're still doubting then check out his new vigilante flick Justice which could have easily starred an Alpha male from exploitation cinema era.


Ty said...

Excellent write-up on Cage. Huge fan also, been working on watching all of his films.

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