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Uncaged - Matchstick Men (2003) & National Treasure (2004)

This year, I am going to try to get through the whole oeuvre of Nicolas Cage because my fascination with this man and his contradictions is endless. God help me.

Matchstick Men (2003)

Ridley Scott was a director who knew enough to let Nicolas Cage work and bring his unique energy to his character. At first, all the signs point towards a bad movie that doesn’t know how to use Cage. His character is strongly defined by his obsessive compulsive disorder and all the usual signs of this condition are there in conventional form: the nervous twitching, the insistence on certain patterns and repetitions. But the disorder is weaved in so effortlessly into the story that we quickly become used to Cage’s performance. Also, I have said before that Cage is a collaborative actor and that he truly shines with great partners, which he finds in Sam Rockwell, his con man compatriot, and Alison Lohman, playing his daughter whose mother he apparently abandoned. These actors bring out different aspects of Cage’s character, from the slick, professional attitude he brings to his cons, to the fatherly, sometimes overbearingly so, air he quickly develops when Lohman’s character enters his life. They are both so good in their discovery of each other’s personal quirks that it still plays well even when you know the twist. Con movies are all about performance, an easy metaphor for acting, and we can see Cage discovering his character, his true character, when he takes risks and does things he has never done before, and that is what Scott captures so beautifully. Scott forgoes a lot of the visual flash that had characterized his movies, though there is still a lot of dramatic lighting and kinetic shots. But he also lets scenes sit and play out without too much insistence on cutting and editing.

National Treasure (2004)

Nicolas Cage as credible action star has always been an interesting proposition. I think that he is a very good physical actor, but that the physicality doesn’t necessarily lend itself to amazing stunt work or great fight scenes. At best, he doesn’t embarrass himself. His physicality is better manifested in subtler ways, such as how he carries himself when he is playing twins in Adaptation, or his bravado in Moonstruck. All this is to say that National Treasure is an ideal role for Cage. HIs character is more about deduction and investigation rather than physical prowess, and Cage can also play obsessive in his sleep. It is because of his one-track mind that this whole absurd, conspiracy theory-espousing movie is bearable to watch. In fact, the movie didn’t really need all the action to be interesting, although clearly Disney wanted something that would hit all four quadrants, which this movie did admirably. I think that Cage in a Disney property was just as risky a proposition as Johnny Depp’s fey take on Jack Sparrow, and while National Treasure didn’t pay off as handsomely as Pirates did, the resulting product is still pleasantly above average.

 

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