Thursday Rethink 2: Nicolas Cage is a Good Actor

Bad Lieutenant still
Bad Lieutenant still

The Proposition: Nicolas Cage is a good actor.

The Backdrop: I try not to hide my love of Nic Cage from other people, but it does sometimes get embarrassing. Although I can appreciate the humourous ribbings he often gets for his over-the-top antics (his recent appearance on SNL was a highlight), I do think he is a good actor. I’m not trying to convince anyone to agree with me, but am merely laying out a few reasons why I think he is underrated. It’d be great if this could get you to reconsider what you think a good performance is, but I don’t demand reevaluations of critical criteria from all my readers. Just please consider what I have to say.

Three Reasons:

1. Nicolas Cage is an extremely dedicated actor. Perhaps this sometimes works to his detriment (he should have known better than to run around in a bear suit punching women in The Wicker Man), but for the most part, Cage’s unwavering dedication to his roles makes his performances intense and always interesting. Cage is never boring on screen. Whether he is in a good movie or bad, you will always be watching him — not his co-stars, not the scenery, him. He commands your attention, even if it is to merely watch him wail about being a vampire (Vampire’s Kiss). If Anthony Hopkins is considered a great actor, even when he phones in half of his roles, how can Cage, who gives each and every performance all he has, be considered anything less than a good actor?

2. He has a sense of humour about his own intensity. His recent appearance on SNL where he showed up on Weekend Update beside Andy Samberg is a great example of how Cage understands the ludicrousness of some of the things his movies require him to do. This tongue-in-cheek knowing shows up in good movies (his role as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass, complete with ridiculous Adam West voice, was great) and bad (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), but is always lurking behind his manic performances. People can say Nic Cage takes himself too seriously, but they can never say he’s not aware of that fact.

3. When he does drama, he is very good. Most people who dislike Cage have only seen his action movies. They need to see his dramas. Rumble Fish, Peggy Sue Got Married, Wild at Heart, Leaving Las Vegas, Bringing Out the Dead, Adaptation, Matchstick Men, Lord of War, The Weather Man, World Trade Center — he has more good performances in the movies listed here than most actors can ever achieve. Cage has a knack for drama, especially when he’s in the hands of a good director. And when a director can combine Cage’s best dramatic instincts with his perpetual energy and insanity, like Werner Herzog did in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the resulting performance is sublime.

So, what do you think?