The most important shot in The unbearable weight of massive talent suggests that Nicolas Cage come across a life-size copy of him Face / Off psychopath Castor Troy double-fisted a pair of custom-designed gold-plated pistols. After a career as one of Hollywood’s great gunmen – a crack for hire on projects of very varying caliber – the actor is forced to look down on his own legacy. He’s not sure he likes what he sees. “It’s grotesque,” Cage measures, his eyes shining with a combination of horror, recognition and perhaps desire. Moments later, he makes a disgrace: “I’ll give you $ 20,000 for it.”
The existential sight gag of Cage holding a gun to his own head is complemented elsewhere in Tom Gormican’s film by an ongoing joke in which the star – satirically cast as a cash, narcissistic version of himself, stopped at Chateau Marmont and still hunts more elusive A-list roles while contemplating retirement – hallucinating yet another alter ego: his younger, floppy-haired, CGI-leveled self, who goes by the name Nicky. This second cage comes decorated in Wild at heart drag (his jacket is a symbol of his individuality… and his belief in personal freedom) and throws accusations against his mirror image of the stupidity of him wasting their hard-earned movie star status. It is an intertextual allusion to Customization and its identical twin screenwriters, Donald and Charlie, both played by Cage with an astute, Oscar-nominated brilliance. Although where the brothers just raged at each other, the two Nicks came in The unbearable weight of massive talent actually getting into a fist fight and later finding out – an equally good metaphor as anyone for what is basically a movie star vanity project by proxy.
The confrontation with the self has long been a Nic Cage specialty, starting with the identity crisis high jinks of Face / Off and Customization and continues on the schizophrenic cartoon metaphysics of Ghost Rider, if hero, Johnny Blaze, struggles to suppress his pyrotechnic ID. Ditto HI in To raise Arizona, whose love of “the little things” is twisted into the murderous, rabbit-killing rage of the Demon Biker of the Apocalypse, a bounty hunter sprung from the subconscious of the sweet outlaw. “Let go of the pig,” the eccentric director Werner Herzog once said, explaining his strategy while directing Cage as the sociopathic protagonist in Bad Lieutenant: Port of call – New Orleans. In Cage’s best film, the connection between his talents and the characters’ plays is made explicit. Leaving Las Vegas is a thoroughly realistic depiction of alcoholism – and it deservedly won Cage its only Oscar for best male lead – but the film’s tragic parable of flamboyant self-destruction under flashing neon lights is on some level a meditation on performance. It’s about the desire to make oneself a play and then die.
The great paradox of Cage’s wildly varied filmography is that even though the actor holds crowds, he is always, in one way or another, himself. Some actors are chameleons, but Cage – who memorably side-eyed some iguanas in Bad lieutenant– does not change shape. The next time he actually disappears into a role will be the first.
The unbearable weight of massive talent knows this and is designed as a showcase for Cage, where he can completely get rid of the mask – and to exercise as well as expel his gifts. Unfortunately, while Cage’s talent is massive in terms of metafilm, The unbearable weight is weightless – not as sophisticated as Charlie Kaufmans Customization or To be John Malkovich or even as witty as JCVD, the underrated Belgian comedy that gave Jean-Claude Van Damme the final action hero treatment. Instead of digging deep, Gormican’s good-natured comedy is content with being the cinematic equivalent of a Nicolas Cage meme – a loving but superficial bit of satire that never threatens to really deconstruct (or break down) its subject matter. “Nic Cage,” we see here, is apparently a stylized facsimile with standard editions of family problems in search of a redemption tale. Any bill with the actual weight (or temptations) of fame feels purified and superficial, like a PG-13 celebrity roast.
In fact, Cage’s recent wonderful Reddit AMA cut deeper into the core of his skills and philosophy, as well as into what he thinks of himself and his own mythology. Asked if he thinks he has done anything new with the performing arts, Cage replied: “I think many of the choices I have made are inspired by silent film stars, as well as cultural ones. expression of achievement that Kabuki and some of the Golden Age actors like [James] Cagney… I do not know how to say that I have made something new because those elements are always in my mind. ”
To return to the grotesque Castor Troy mannequin, it is the prized property of Javi (Pedro Pascal), an enthusiastic collector of Cage ephemera, large and small. Javi is fabulously rich, to the point that he is able to persuade the star to make a cameo at his lavish weekend-long birthday party in Mallorca – a concert that the actor takes in the spirit of a guilty mercenary. (His manager, played by Neil Patrick Harris, says it’s easy money.) Javi is also a aspiring screenwriter, and he’s written a movie for Nic, which the latter rejects without reading: He’s too busy being blacked out. full on the beach and marinate themselves. -pity. Where the film locates its sweet – and for a while persistent – sense of surprise is in the way Nic and Javi realize that they are related souls anyway. They bond over a common love Dr. Caligaris cabinet (in fact, one of Cage’s favorite movies, and a clear inspiration for his acting style, especially in the bugnuts expressionist tribute The vampire’s kiss) and make plans to rewrite the manuscript together. Pascal is a gifted comedian and he does something tricky here, inhabiting a character who can not help but be self-destructive, as his stage partner is one of the most famous movie stars on the planet, while giving him enough shadow so that a film designed as a brand-name showcase mutates to a double beat. When Cage and Pascal just hang out, The unbearable weight feels like a believable 80s-style buddy comedy, complete with a road trip, rock diving and a paranoid acid-suppressing interlude.
It’s also a 90’s style action movie that inserts footage of With air (and Cage’s spectacular hair in it) in a prologue that sees the daughter of a progressive Spanish political candidate kidnapped by drug lords. This plot point goes back to Javi and what appears to be his secret double life. In an attempt to uncover the mystery of Javi’s wealth – and extend the film’s one-joke premise beyond the length of a comedy sketch – Nic goes undercover for the CIA, represented here by a strange cast but played by Tiffany Haddish. (Maybe low-hanging fruit, but her character gets a pretty good laugh from invoking herself The Croods.)
The history of the cartel is, of course, only a pretext for metaphysical high jinks (and a climax involving Cage in a monstrous latex disguise), but even as The unbearable weight trying to take the piss out of globe-trotting espionage thrillers – and the cynical, studio-industrial machine that knocks them out – it ends up hitting many of the same predictable brands along the way. In a movie like Customization, what is at stake in the symbolic interplay between Charlie and Donald Kaufman is nothing less than the question of originality in art. It had no answer to that question, but at least it sincerely sought under all the curved, Kaufman deficit. The unbearable weight of massive talent not looking for anything; it’s just getting rid of its own wisdom.
In the end, the biggest problem is with The unbearable weight is that for its entire Cage arcana – its endless references, shout-outs and clips from Guarding Tess– it is not quite willing to meet its star on his terms. When Cage is great, his immense talent is used as an alienating effect: Even a fair revenge saga like Pig is complicated by the way he keeps the audience at a distance. Cage’s strangeness is part of what makes him endearing, however just loving is the last thing we want him to be and he is the wrong actor to teach us lessons about the importance of friends, family and humility (that’s why The weatherman is a bad Nicolas Cage movie). The last scenes of The unbearable weight of massive talent show the pig back in the path, satisfied tamed. If Gormican’s intention is to put these images of compromise in scare quotes – to suggest something about the nature of Cage’s fantasies, or our own, or the gap between them – he has not succeeded. And if he is serious in his shameless embrace of clichés, then the film as a whole is a nervous failure. There is a difference between ambivalence and having it both ways, and The unbearable weight of massive talent is too conventional to spend so much time mocking conventions. The ongoing motif of Cage versus Cage is smart, but it’s also self-destructive – an emblem of a film that loses its own face.
Adam Nayman is a Toronto film critic, teacher, and author; his book The Coen Brothers: This book really ties the movies together is available now from Abrams.