Column: In defense of Nicolas Cage

By Charles Martin

I think everyone will agree with me when I say that the Internet really loves to hate on Nicolas Cage. There is the array of memes of his bizarre facial expressions that have arisen, the videos of his weird acting moments, and the plethora of photos with his face on the bodies of cats. Probably one of the best examples is the YouTube video with which we’re probably all familiar, “Nic Cage Losing His Shit.”

If you haven’t seen it yet, by all means take a couple of minutes to check it out. Seriously, go ahead, I’ll wait…

You see what I mean?!

With all that in mind, it is easy to see why a lot of people don’t think too highly of his acting. But in my highly professional opinion, I don’t think his acting is necessarily bad. It’s just different.

First off, let’s point out that, as hard as it is to admit, Cage has been in some quality films. In “Raising Arizona,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” and “The Rock,” he plays it straight and does a fairly good job in the more dramatic or, at the very least, serious roles. Hell, the man was nominated for an Oscar for his role in “Adaptation.” Even in the “National Treasure” movies, which weren’t fantastic, he did a passable job.

Of course, those aren’t the movies that have really earned him his infamy. Instead, it’s the movies contained in the video that I mentioned before (which, just to see where I’m coming from, you really should watch if you haven’t already) that people really like to remember. For God’s sake, the video has over seven million views, which is more than most of Cage’s actual movies!

Call me crazy, but when Nicolas Cage acts really, really weird in a movie, I usually don’t attribute it to bad acting. Ultimately, it comes down to one of two situations. The first is when Nicolas Cage is intentionally acting bat-shit crazy because it suits his character. In that video, half the snippets come from just two movies: “Vampire’s Kiss” and “Bad Lieutenant.” In both of these movies, he acts completely and utterly insane, jumping on desks, picking fights with random strangers, and inexplicably wailing at the top of his lungs. But here’s the thing: that’s precisely the point. In “Vampire’s Kiss,” Cage plays a psychopath who’s convinced that he’s turning into a vampire, and in “Bad Lieutenant,” he’s a crack-addicted, corrupt cop. Both of these movies are about watching a character completely and utterly break down and then terrorize everyone around him. In this task, Cage certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Then there’s “The Wicker Man,” or as some people may know it, that movie in which Nicolas Cage has bees poured on his face and starts punching a woman in a bear suit. Would I call that bad acting? Yes and no. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not good acting. It’s bizarre, jarring, and completely out of place in the rest of the movie. But here’s the thing: even without Cage’s over-the-top performance, “The Wicker Man” isn’t a good movie. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it one of the worst pieces of shit I’ve ever seen. Everything about it fails, from the awful plot to the crappy writing to the across-the-board terrible acting to its attempts at scares that amount to a level of strangeness I haven’t seen since “Troll 2.” Sure, Nicolas Cage running around in a bear suit and roundhouse kicking people in the face might make no sense within the film’s context, but it’s also the only fun part in a movie that otherwise makes me want to claw my own eyes out.

It’s a misconception to say that acting can only be defined as good or bad. There are some actors out there who are inarguably “good” in everything: Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz, and Daniel Day-Lewis, to name a few. Then there are actors who fit into a very different category.

The best example of this, I think, is if we look at “Twilight: New Moon.” Okay, stop snickering and hear me out. The acting in that movie is terrible. Everyone gives a cold, emotionless performance that serves as one of many elements making the film unwatchable…that is, until Michael Sheen steps in as the ludicrously flamboyant head of the vampire organization. Making a face like a ventriloquist dummy undergoing a prostate exam, he delivers every line with so much strange energy and accompanies it with equally inexplicable gestures that he had me cracking up whenever he was on screen. Now, calling this good acting would be downright disrespectful to any actor who respects his art, but the fact remains that he succeeded as the only one making the film at least mildly entertaining. Thus, it might be said that this kind of acting can serve a purpose.

This is why I won’t call Cage a bad actor. “Ghost Rider 2” is so much fun because he spends the whole movie acting like a heroin addict in withdrawal who just drank four Redbulls. In “Drive Angry,” he acts like a schizophrenic terminator.

Even in “Kick-Ass,” he spends half the time acting like a pedophile on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. Degree of skill aside, his acting can at least be called  entertaining.

Cage claims to have invented his own style of acting called “Nouveau Shamanic” specifically for portraying bat-shit insanity. Some think the man’s just nuts. Ultimately, whether it is method or madness, Cage achieves something very special with his acting. If only the man did a better job at picking his projects.

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