Today it’s all about Nic Cage. The release of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent sees Cage produce and star in a film that positions itself as a self-referential ‘meta comedy’ about his career and the mega-fandom that has followed him in the internet age; a phenomenon that probably could be traced back to the hit YouTube video ‘Nicholas Cage Freak-Out Montage’.
The film is a light-hearted and well-meaning love letter to the superstar actor but in truth, his career is deserving of a more sincere appraisal. This week’s Friday Night Film pick celebrates a Cage performance that doesn’t get enough love – his turn as the burnt-out paramedic in Martin Scorsese’s underappreciated Bringing Out The Dead from 1999.
Until a recent renaissance with the cult hit Mandy and a career-best turn in Pig, the 1990s were undoubtedly peak-era Cage. He had huge mainstream success with action-packed blockbusters The Rock, Con-Air, and Face/Off, a Best Actor Oscar win with Leaving Las Vegas plus work with famed auteurs David Lynch and Brian De Palma. Then Scorsese came calling. In his fourth collaboration with screenwriter Paul Schrader – another nocturnal tale reminiscent of Travis Bickle’s nightmarish odyssey in Taxi Driver – Scorsese turned to Cage to play his lead protagonist Frank Pierce, an exhausted nightshift paramedic on the verge of breakdown.
Typical of these joint Scorsese and Schrader works, Frank is a man struggling with internal demons. Set in an early ‘90s version of New York which appears to be on the verge of societal collapse, he is haunted at every turn by a young woman he was unable to save, and further tormented by a long draught of being able to save anybody at all, a feeling he describes as “the best drug in the world”.
This isn’t Cage at his most unhinged, despite a rage bubbling just beneath the surface, but rather a performance that demonstrates the actor’s emotional range that perfectly compliments a film that is constantly shifting gears from surreal and chaotic to grievous and heartfelt. It’s a perfect demonstration of his worth beyond the memes and self-parody of his present-day persona.