There's more to this one-note scene-chewer than meets the eye
The intense thriller Joe is about to hit the cinemas – could this reboot Nicolas Cage’s illustrious career? We take a look at the actor’s finest films.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995) Nicolas Cage’s role in 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas gave him an early opportunity to show his crazy side, the very thing he would become known – and derided – for in his later (and not quite as good) films. But back then, the critics were kind; the performance earned him the Oscar for best actor, the gem in his acting crown. His character, Ben Sanderson, a Hollywood hack screenwriter, is fizzled out and depressed; his career is in tatters, if only due to his own addiction. He decides to leave it all behind and move permanently to Las Vegas in order to complete his downward spiral. While there, he meets Sera (Elizabeth Shue), a lost soul with a similarly epic case of the doldrums. Despite escorting each other toward mutual destruction, the two actually help each other to see some good in the world.
Raising Arizona (1987) One of Cage’s earliest films showed the world what the young(ish) actor was capable of. By being repeatedly jailed for robbing gas stations in Arizona, Cage’s plucky criminal named H.I. gets to know stern cop Edwina (Holly Hunter) – which, of course, leads to the two getting hitched. Naturally, marriage leads to children – but sadly, upon the realisation that Edwina can’t have kids, the two plot to steal one of the ‘Arizona Quints’ – five babies recently born to a local rich family. The cat-and-mouse carnage that follows is hilarious, heartbreaking and always exciting – with Nicolas Cage as the movie’s emotional compass, always trying to point true in the middle of the chaos. But perhaps the real hero of the piece is Cage’s hair: throughout his career, the actor’s mop has received near-obsessive scrutiny. H.I.’s frankfurter moustache-and-unshowered hair combo may still be his high point.
Face/Off (1997) Nothing says action movie like 1997’s Face/Off, and nothing says villain like Nicolas Cage’s character. In the two years since the 1995 Oscar win, the actor decided to escape the serious-artist status he had been pigeonholed into and instead went down the route of massive blockbusters including action classics such as Con Air and The Rock, but the best of the bunch was the rollercoaster ride Face/Off. If its insane premise, where terrorist Castor Troy (Cage) and supercop Sean Archer (John Travolta) swap faces thanks to cutting-edge surgery, doesn’t draw you in, then watching Cage playing both the villain and the hero surely will. It was a chance for Cage to exercise both the nice-guy personas of his past characters, while showing us his capacity for craziness; if we had to pick one film that shows off all the man’s talents, this would be first on the showreel.
Adaptation (2002) Another role where Cage got to play two people in the same movie, Adaptation is memorable for being almost as nutty as its lead actor. Playing Charlie Kaufman (the writer of the film in real-life) and his identical twin brother Donald (invented for the film), he’s a nervous wreck, sweaty with worry after he’s just been hired to write a movie script based on a book; his struggle and constant failure to turn in even a rough draft is portrayed perfectly by Cage, in what’s probably his most comedic role to date. Adaptation is also at its best when Charlie and Donald share some truths about one another, whether it’s about Charlie’s unsuccessful grasping for credibility, or Donald’s lack of it; these instances are, essentially, Cage talking to himself (with the help of some trick photography). It’s not only a brilliant technological achievement, but a triumph in acting.
Bringing Out the Dead (1999) At the turn of the millennium, Cage bagged that rare acting gig: a part in a Martin Scorsese film. The director of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull once again turned his eye to New York, and hired Cage to play overworked paramedic Frank Pierce, whose chief duties included driving an ambulance around the city at night and delving into bizarre cases. Cage plays insomniac Frank perfectly, bringing the character to life with tics and mannerisms only he could impart. But Frank is ultimately a tragic figure; haunted by visions of his own failure to save the lives of Manhattan, his daytime reality is increasingly blurred with his night-time profession. Despite a couple of great pictures, this was one of the last truly good films Cage had starred in – until this year’s Joe, that is. Let’s just hope he’s managed to get some sleep by now...