The Man Who Couldn’t Say No: 31 Days With Nicolas Cage

Solomon Kenworthy, Web Editor

     If a personal crusade causes one to go through extreme grief to find answers, is there a point they should stop? In the case of challenging yourself to watch only Nicolas Cage films for an entire month, the answer is a resounding yes. For as long as I can remember I was always interested in the unexplainable: Bigfoot, Mark Wahlberg’s music career, and easily at the top of the list, Nicolas Cage. Not just his professional career is interesting, his personal life is reality TV worthy. 

An opportunity to interview Cage about his life is something one can only dream of. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

     Cage at one point owned 15 houses, 2 castles, a pet octopus, a 70 million-year-old dinosaur skull (which turned out to be stolen), the first-ever Superman comic book, and a private island in the Bahamas, which all ended up equating to an approximately $13 million worth of debt owed to the IRS. Because of this, he had to accept practically every role given, which begs the question, what were these films, and could they prove whether Cage was a good or bad actor? That was the exact question I set out to answer in August of 2020, when I decided to spend the entire month only watching Cage’s films. 

     Please, follow my experience, as I watched for 31 days the man who couldn’t say no. To truly experience it as I did, we will compare this event to the Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Denial

     Before this, I had only seen 7 of his films, thinking I had already seen the worst of his performances. The first film I saw was called Bangkok Dangerous (2008), which I had never heard of before, and only watched because it was free. It’s a movie about a hitman in, you guessed it, Bangkok, where the plot turned into The Karate Kid for a couple of minutes for seemingly no reason. It was pretty bad, the story didn’t make a lot of sense, the editing was some of the worst I’ve ever seen, and the script was filled with lazy writing. Looking back, this was a sign of what was to come, I just didn’t know it yet. 

     The next film I saw, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (2009), gave me hope, as it was everything Dangerous wasn’t. The directing was fantastic, Cage himself was steller, and the script was flat out brilliant. I came to find many of his best performances, that when viewed out of context, were hilariously bad. Here, it’s seen more than once, but my favorite moment comes when he tells two elderly women they’re what’s wrong with America and then pulls a gun on them. Again, it’s crazy to say but within the story, this makes complete sense. 

     For the next 8 days, I began each morning by watching a new Cage film and taking the rest of the day to think about who I was and what I was doing in life. Most of these films were so awful, watching them was like watching your childhood house burn down. I tried giving each film a chance, but every film just went further and further downhill. “No,” I thought film after film, “He can’t be this bad.” Many of them have legitimately interesting concepts that would make solid high school films, but that’s it. 

Photo courtesy of IMDb

Anger

     After the first ten days, I found myself dreading even the act of turning on the television, knowing all that would be on it was Cage in another film with terrible writing, poor directing, and worse editing. The moment it really clicked that I would never get the hours I spend on my crusade back was during the 7th film I sat through, Between Worlds (2018). This is without a doubt one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Just like so many of his other films, he just dies at the end and then the credits start to roll. This angered me so much because it wasn’t even laughably bad, it was just not well-made. 

     There were so many other films I wanted to watch that month, and not even new releases or anything along those lines, just different films. I hated the fact that I had seen Cage in two separate films, released years apart both with the exact same plot, being that his daughter is kidnapped because of something in his past. I couldn’t do it anymore, I’ve seen awful movies, but this was different. I wasn’t strong enough, nothing could have prepared me for this, or what came next…

Bargaining

Photo courtesy of IMDb

     I took a three-day break, and when I returned, decided to start watching some films that were received critically well, thinking that maybe that would turn things around. Leaving Las Vegas (1995) is the film that got him the Best Actor Oscar, so naturally it seemed like a good choice. Within the first few minutes I felt extremely uncomfortable watching his performance, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen: he was brilliant in the film. It was like nothing I had ever seen an actor do before. Cage was vacant from the film, and only his character remained. I never plan to watch this film again, and can’t even comfortably recommend it, but it was very well-made. 

     The next day I was shocked to find that Cage had worked with legendary director Martin Scorcese in a film called Bringing Out the Dead (1999), another great one. The best part here would definitely be the cast, and how they work off each other. The film has some extremely dark humor, so grim that at moments I honestly wasn’t always sure when to laugh or be disturbed. In the film, Cage’s character is a paramedic and is trying to quit his job, but there’s always just one more night of work before he can. At this point, I could relate to that idea. Just when I thought I had seen it all from Cage, there was always something new and surprising, I never knew what to expect. 

Depression

     Inconceivable (2017) wasn’t the worst thing ever, but it was the closest I got to never wanting to watch a movie again. Cage isn’t even in the lead role so there’s not too much I can say surrounding his performance; it was fine. What this film represents in my journey for answers is what matters here. Seemingly once I found a film that showed how great of an actor Cage was, there were just as many examples to show how mediocre, or even flat out terrible, he could be. No matter what I watched, this truth couldn’t be changed.

Acceptance

     With only four days left in the month, I knew there was nothing I could do to make time move faster, so I knew what final film I needed to watch. For years I had heard this was his worst film, that it was bad on a different level than anything seen before. What I came to find was that of the 18 films I watched, The Wicker Man (2006) was easily the best. When I first saw it, I viewed it on the same level as The Happening, something “So bad, it’s good.” But looking back at it, I find there are elements of the film I think are legitimately good. Most importantly, beneath its terrible quality, The Wicker Man had every answer I was looking for.

Photo courtesy of IMDB

     This is the perfect Nicolas Cage role, and has the perfect mix of what makes a good Cage performance. The journey Cage’s character, Edward, takes in the film, can be mirrored to how we can see if Cage is good or bad in a role. In the film, he receives a letter from his ex-fiance asking him to come to a mysterious island to help look for her daughter. There, Edward finds the island to be controlled by a group of women, where no men are educated, and where there is a strange fascination with bees. In the beginning he acts somewhat regular, trying to become comfortable with the residents. One moment sees Edward joking with some women and a few men holding a bag filled with something clearly near death saying, “What’s in the bag, a shark or something?” 

     Over the course of the film, Edward starts to become tired of the obscure answers and lack of information being given to him, and starts acting how you, the audience, want him to. Cage interrupts people and even calls out the woman in charge of the island. There’s a breaking point near the end of the film, where he figures most of the mystery out, and for the most part becomes self-aware. This relates to Cage’s acting career because in several interviews, he calls his own poor acting choices out and is objective about them. He is self-aware, but no matter what he does, always loves his work. 

     What makes him so different from almost any other actor, no matter how many houses or castles he owns, is that he has a passion for acting and will always do exactly what the script and director tell him to. What this comes down to is that in a way, he is the perfect actor. 

     Nicolas Cage is the type of guy who once took over the P.A. system on an airplane and announced, “This is the pilot. I’m not feeling well. I’m losing control of the aircraft.” This can be seen not just in his personal life, but his acting choices as well. We need more actors like Cage, he takes his craft seriously, and is a dying breed in Hollywood. Then again, I’ll completely contradict myself by saying that I could be entirely wrong. I mean who knows, maybe there was a shark in the bag.