Where To Start With... - January 2, 2015

Where To Start With... Nicolas Cage
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

Where To Start With... Nicolas Cage

Born Nicholas Kim Coppola (yes, from that Coppola family), the man we've come to know as Nicolas Cage has enjoyed an acting career that has seen him win an Academy Award for Best Actor and taken in a range of interesting and challenging roles from alcoholic screenwriter to comic book hero, while he's also had his turn as a director for the 2002 film Sonny.

His latest outing sees him take on the role of airline pilot Rayford Steele in Vic Armstrong's screen adaptation of Left Behind, the best-selling novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The film, as with the book, deals with the idea of the Rapture – the biblical tale from the book of Revelations in which believers are summoned to Heaven just before the 'second coming'.

Steele's encounter with the biblical prophesy begins when most of the passengers aboard one of his flights – along with the rest of his flight crew – suddenly vanish into thin air. Things get even weirder when he lands to discover that it isn't just aboard his plane that people have gone missing, in fact it seems to be a global event in which people all over the world find their loved ones have disappeared and begin a frantic search for answers to what has happened.

Cage has taken a fair bit of criticism over some of his recent role choices – perhaps unfairly given his back catalogue of impressive performances – and for non-Christians at least, Left Behind is unlikely to change that, but as a reminder of some of his best work we've picked out five of his career highlights.

Check out the trailer for Left Behind below, underneath you'll find our top 5 Nicolas Cage moments...

Left Behind - Official Trailer 

 

Raising Arizona

Released in 1987, Raising Arizona is the only time cage has worked with the Coen brothers, and the fact that they haven't done so since is a shame, because it's a winning combination. Cage plays the role of H.I. McDonnough, an ex-convict who marries an ex-policewoman Edwina (Holly Hunter), only to discover they cannot have children. Instead, they abduct one of a set of quintuplets fathered by the wealthy Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). Keeping their kidnapping and passing the child off as their own would provide enough of a storyline for most films, but this being the Coens there's also an assortment of characters that includes friends and co-workers to a bounty hunter, all seeking their own purposes for the child. Something of a breakthrough role for Cage, it's also still one of his best performances.

 

Leaving Las Vegas

Mike Figgis was in the director's chair for this adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel by author and screenwriter John O'Brien. This bleak tale sees Cage take on the role of Ben Sanderson, a Hollywood screenwriter who heads to the American gambling Mecca to drink himself to death after his wife leaves him and he loses his job, both a result of his alcoholism. While in Las Vegas he meets and forms an odd relationship with a prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue), who has some considerable baggage of her own. They move in together on the proviso that she does not try to stop him fulfilling his purpose, and Cage delivers an excellent performance as the gradually deteriorating writer, who slowly succumbs to his demons. The story is made even more bleak by the fact that O'Brien committed suicide just weeks after the film was optioned, but the film's heavy subject matter is delicately handled and the character is sensitively portrayed by Cage in what is still one of his most challenging roles to date, earning him an Oscar and a slew of other accolades in the process.

 

Face/Off

Cage went through a bit of action hero phase in the mid-1990s, starring in a string of bombastic blockbusters that included films like Con Air and The Rock, but the best of the bunch is John Woo's 1997 offering Face/Off. Cage stars alongside John Travolta, firstly as the psychopathic master criminal Castor Troy, then as FBI agent and family man Sean Archer, a man with a personal grudge against Troy, who is responsible for the death of Archer's son.

Things get really interesting when, after Troy is incapacitated, Archer has to go deep undercover to discover the location of a bomb, set to go off in a few days' time – and by 'deep', we mean 'borrow Castor Troy's face while he's in a coma to infiltrate the prison in which his brother is incarcerated'. When Troy unexpectedly wakes up, he orders the surgeons to perform the same procedure on him, taking Archer's face in exchange for his own. As such, the film sees both actors switching roles, and the contrast is stark. Cage is just brilliant in this film, both as Troy and Archer, but credit where it's due – Travolta is equally impressive.

 

Adaptation

Charlie Kaufman takes the unusual but highly original approach of casting Cage as both himself and his fictional twin brother Donald in this strange tale of a screenwriter struggling with a screen adaptation of a novel named The Orchid Thief. Adding another unusual and slightly meta twist to the proceedings, much of this takes place while on the set of one of Kaufman's earlier films, the wonderful Spike Jonze-directed Being John Malkovich. Charlie wrestles with the script and with his feelings for a woman named Amelia (Cara Seymour), as well as his pretentious brother's ideas for the new film. Also featuring an impressive cast that numbers Tilda Swinton and Meryl Streep among its ranks, Cage delivers a perfectly measured performance in this weird but compelling film.

 

Matchstick Men

At the risk of angering his fans by leaving out one of his most acclaimed performances as the titular character in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, our final recommendation from Nicolas Cage's career comes courtesy of Ridley Scott's 2003 film Matchstick Men. Appearing as conman Roy Waller, Cage stars alongside Sam Rockwell as a con man who suddenly discovers he has a 14-year-old daughter. When she turns up on his doorstep and finds out what he does for a living, instead of washing her hands of her criminal father she is keen to get involved in helping him fleece his targets. Cage's performance, with all the characters ticks and distracting habits, is brilliantly delivered and he is totally absorbing as the reckless grifter who struggles to come to terms with the shady and confusing moral ground he now stands on. Scott's film is funny and, at times, rather touching, but you just can't imagine anyone else pulling off the role of Roy in quite the same fashion as Cage manages here.

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