The last several years have been quite challenging for Nicolas Cage. His troubles started in 2009 when the IRS filed charges against him for unpaid federal taxes. Cage's financial crisis was a result of his lavish lifestyle which made payment of tax liens and other debts a major challenge for him. The same year Cage was sued by his partner and actress Christina Fulton. In 2011, Cage was arrested on charges of domestic violence, which were later dropped. This was a period of great turmoil for Cage. In order to overcome his financial difficulties, he ended up doing a series of abysmal films which jolted his career badly. Although, things have improved during the last few years, Cage is still looking to reclaim his place in Hollywood. While his solid performances in films such as Joe (2013) and The Frozen Ground (2013) did offer glimpses of what he is capable of, he is far from his best. His admirers all across the globe must be hoping that the real Nicolas Cage stands up, sooner rather than later. They may just be in luck—three films starring Cage are set to hit theatres worldwide.
In order to overcome his financial difficulties, he ended up doing a series of abysmal films which jolted his career badly.
In Army of One, a comedy film directed by Larry Charles, Cage plays an American construction worker who embarks on a mission to hunt down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. In USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, a WW-II movie directed by Mario Van Peebles, Cage portrays a dogged commanding officer who survives for five days at sea against all odds after his ship gets torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Dog Eat Dog, Cage's second film with Paul Schrader (also starring Willem Dafoe), is a crime drama wherein he plays a crazy criminal going after one last score. The three roles underpin Cage's remarkable range as an actor. Although playing flamboyant and eccentric characters, often bordering on madness, has always been Cage's forte, he is at his best when he is able to bring to the fore their inner subtleties. Perhaps that's what makes his best characters real and relatable.
There are few actors as versatile and talented as Nicolas Cage. It is difficult to think of another actor who has played roles as diverse as him. A cursory look at his career is enough to gauge how successful he has been as a movie star over the years. But it requires a much closer scrutiny to appreciate his remarkable range as a screen actor. Throughout his remarkable acting career Cage has received heaps of praise from film critics and his fellow actors alike. Here is what actor Ethan Hawke said of his acting gifts:
"He's the only actor since Marlon Brando that's actually done anything new with the art of acting; he's successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours."
But no praise can probably match Roger Ebert's testimonial:
"There are often lists of the great living male movie stars: De Niro, Nicholson and Pacino, usually. How often do you see the name of Nicolas Cage? He should always be up there. He's daring and fearless in his choice of roles, and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air. No one else can project inner trembling so effectively... he always seems so earnest. However improbable his character, he never winks at the audience. He is committed to the character with every atom and plays him as if he were him."
Not many people are aware that Cage is actually a nephew of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, and his given name is Nicolas Kim Coppola. Cage dropped the Coppola surname to create his independent identity in showbiz. In his own words: "I needed to change my name just to liberate myself and find out I could do it without walking into a Hollywood casting office with the name Coppola."
"Nic Cage is no longer an actor. He could be again, but now he's more like a... performer," observed Sean Penn.
It all started with a minor role in the 1982 coming-of-age teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Cage followed it up with memorable performances in films like Rumble Fish (1983), The Cotton Club (1984) and Birdy (1984). But in many ways his breakthrough role came in the 1987 film Moonstruck wherein he played a love-struck amputee baker. The same year he played a robber turned baby kidnapper in the Coen brothers' crime comedy Raising Arizona (1987). After delivering a series of remarkable performances in the early '90s, including that of a romantic Southern outlaw in David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990), he struck gold with his unforgettable turn of an alcoholic Hollywood writer in Mike Figgis's Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Cage grew in stature following his Oscar win and started trying his hand at out and out commercial films like The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997), Face/Off (1997), Snake Eyes (1998) and Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000). And just like that Cage became one of Hollywood's most bankable stars. During this period Cage received severe flak from various actors: "Nic Cage is no longer an actor. He could be again, but now he's more like a... performer," observed Sean Penn. Nick Nolte said he was one-dimensional and Stephen Baldwin confessed to not enjoying Cage's films. But the star was unfazed.
From the early to mid 2000s, Nicolas Cage starred not just in blockbusters like National Treasure (2004) but also critically acclaimed films like Spike Jonze's Adaptation. (2002), which made Cage only the third actor ever to earn an Oscar nomination for playing multiple characters in a movie. Then there was Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men (2003), wherein he plays a con artist suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Andrew Niccol's Lord of War (2005) in which he essays the part of an illegal arms dealer.
It was only around the year 2009 that things began to turn topsy-turvy for Cage as described earlier. However, The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010), Season of the Witch (2011), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) performed reasonably well at the box-office. But it wouldn't be wrong to say that Cage seemed to have lost his mojo ever since. However, while he may be down he is certainly not out, for a performer of his pedigree just needs one good film to turn the tide. Do In Army of One, Men of Courage and Dog Eat Dog meet the bill? The jury is still out.
A version of this article was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.