Nicolas Cage: Even his arrest is a bore

The actor's one-note acting and over-the-top persona has grown tiresome. It's time for a change

Topics: Celebrity, Movies,

Nicolas Cage: Even his arrest is a boreNicolas Cage's mugshot from this weekend's arrest in New Orleans

This weekend, critics and fans have been musing aloud whether the arrest of Nicolas Cage in New Orleans, on charges of domestic abuse and disturbing the peace, will spell the end of his acting career. Relatedly, if you’ve been paying any attention to Nic Cage’s acting career of late, you’d have to conclude Nic Cage has already been doing a fine job of killing Nic Cage’s career.

Cage has always been an odd one, even by Hollywood standards. He started his career in smaller roles in his uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” and “The Cotton Club,” but his real big break was as the irresistibly weird romantic hero of “Valley Girl” — a part that would set the tone for everything Cage has ever done in its aftermath. In Coppola’s “Peggy Sue Got Married,” he played Kathleen Turner’s goofy high school sweetheart — and his older washed-up later self — with an eccentric abandon that polarized critics. But when he followed up, in 1987, with two of his most memorable characters in two of his best films — as the rooster-haired babynapper H.I. McDunnough in “Raising Arizona” and the romantic, hot-tempered, one-handed Ronny Cammareri in “Moonstruck” — there seemed a winning method to his unorthodox brand of scenery-chewing.

It was easy to be a little in love with Cage in those days; God knows I was. His broad, physical style gave him an unmistakable presence, and his back-to-back success in instant comedy classics afforded him instant A-list status. And for a while, it seemed to be working for him. I have paid money to see “Vampire’s Kiss,” “Wild at Heart” and “Honeymoon in Vegas” (though I somehow never got around to “Zandalee”), and have, over the years, periodically found myself heatedly defending his overheated work in all of them. If you ever want to know what it feels like to be a party of one, may I recommend confessing a fondness for “Vampire’s Kiss”?



His personal life was, at the same time, equally over the top, with his marriages to Patricia Arquette and Lisa Marie Presley, with his top hat-wearing lizard tattoo, with his obsessions with comic books and Elvis, and his extravagant homes and cars. It seemed for a time that he might just be the coolest nutjob in the world. He picked up accolades and awards for his surreal, fearless performances in “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Adaptation,” even as he was already beginning his fierce slide into the realm of eminently pan-worthy crap like “Con Air,” “Face Off,” and “Snake Eyes.” And yes, eternal optimist I am, I have seen them all as well.

For years now, Cage has been parlaying his loose cannon charisma and credibility as an acclaimed actor into an increasingly dreadful body of work. His fans — and they are still many — argue that there is a method to Cage’s cinematic histrionics, that those who criticize his unorthodox performances miss the bravery of them. But I think Cage is, at this point, the Stella Artois of acting: the thing so terrible and tasteless, people assume it has to be great.

Cage has spent the last decade steadily picking up checks — and even still, occasional praise for his work. But most of it these days is a roster of bad hairstyles in forgettably awful fare like “Season of the Witch” and “Drive Angry.” Sure, plenty of fine actors delve now and then into the just-doing-it-for-the-check realm (see also: 80 percent of Michael Caine’s career). And Cage, whose financial woes are rapidly becoming more epic than all three “National Treasures” combined, surely may have additional motivation for his recent choices of work.

But what’s galling about Cage is his steadfast, arrogant refusal to grow as an actor. You might argue that nobody ever went to a John Wayne or Humprey Bogart movie expecting to play against type, but at least their types were men. Cage’s type is a frozen in the time relic of childish tantrum-throwing — one that looks more ridiculous with every passing year of the 47-year-old actor’s life. He isn’t a cool, older badass like Harry Dean Stanton or Harvey Keitel. He’s just stunted. He can call it deliberate, claim that he’s created a “Nouveau Shamanic” style all his own, but at a certain point — and that point would be when you’ve been doing it for about 30 years — running around and acting like a crazy person just isn’t that surprising, challenging or brave anymore. And staggering around doing it drunk in your free time — also not interesting. Say what you will about Cage’s nemesis Sean Penn, at least that guy takes real career risks and still seems to want to create memorable characters, as his funny, touching perfomance in “Milk” proved.

Cage may have given us some great films in his time, but they were arguably already great films, with great directors and casts and scripts, anyway. When was the last time Cage himself elevated the material? When was the last time he did something that wasn’t just Cage, doing what he always does? He’s now become as obviously false as the CGI that so often threatens to upstage him, a middle-aged man doing a parody of his younger, over-the-top self, like an inside-out version of his Charlie Bodell in “Peggy Sue Got Married.” I don’t care how much he yells, or how many fireballs are exploding around him at any given moment, for a long time now, Nic Cage has been just plain boring.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>