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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent': The Ultimate Love Letter to Nicolas Cage

When I was growing up in the late '90s, I distinctly remember seeing a man's face on the cover of a VHS. I asked my father who he the man was, and he told me that his name was Nicolas Cage and that he is an actor. He was one of the first actors I was ever aware of, and the image of him on the VHS, which was a copy of the film Con Air, is one that typically comes to mind when I think of him. A couple of years later, I watched Con Air, and while I was perhaps a bit too young to pick up on certain aspects of the film, I was intrigued by Cage's performance. At this point in time, he was one of the biggest stars on the planet, and I have been following his career semi-closely over the past several years. As most people know, Cage's career has gone through some peaks and valleys over the past few decades. While he was on a hot streak in the '90s, his star faded a little in the 2000s. The 2010s were also rough for him, as a lot of his output came in the form of direct-to-DVD films that were much maligned by the general public. Near the end of this decade, he began to appear in smaller indie films that saw him taking more of a naturalistic approach to acting. His work in films like Joe and Mandy saw him getting some praise from critics. Last year, his performance in the film Pig was met with near universal acclaim, and had many people re-evaluating their thoughts on Cage as an actor. He is a rather multi-faceted person and performer, yet many seem to see him as an over-the-top eccentric that makes bad movies, as opposed to an Academy Award winning actor who was once a huge box-office draw. But the thing is, both of these versions of him are one in the same. Cage has many different personas that he has embodied in his work over the years, ranging from big and boisterous characters, to cool action heroes, to more authentic, dramatic roles. There is more to Cage than most people realize, which is part of what makes him such a fascinating and enigmatic figure in pop culture.

When it was announced that a film was going to be made that featured Nicolas Cage playing a version of himself, I was worried that the film was going to capitalize on the less than favorable view that most people have of him. A lot of people see him as a walking meme, and it wouldn't have surprised me if this film leaned heavily into this. But thankfully, writer/director Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten are aware of the more complex nature of Cage as a person and as an actor, and give us a loving, yet honest depiction of him. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a surprisingly comprehensive and in-depth look at Cage's career, all wrapped in the conventions of an action-comedy. While it does poke fun at certain parts of his career and public persona, this film is also aware of one important detail, which is that through every high and low of his career, Nicolas Cage has remained one of our most interesting and passionate actors currently working. This film is pure unadulterated Nic Cage, and is an excellent tribute to him and his career.

The film starts with Cage going through a rough patch, both personally and professionally. He isn't getting the types of roles he wants, and his busy work schedule has caused him to not spend much time with his family. His agent tells him that a wealthy man named Javi has offered him 1 million dollars to appear at his birthday party which he reluctantly agrees to. He then travels to Javi's mansion in Spain where he finds himself being recruited for a mission by the CIA. Cage finds himself confronting his past in order to save the day, all the while trying to decide if his new acquaintance, Javi, is friend or foe.

Based on the trailers and promotional material, the film definitely seems like it is more satirical. However, it doesn't quite go in that direction. It is much more interested in breaking down the Nicolas Cage persona, and celebrating his entire career. There are jokes made about his hits like Face/Off, Con Air, and The Rock, but there are also references to some of his lesser talked-about films like Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Guarding Tess. For people like me that are very familiar with Cage's body of work, there is much to appreciate here. The jokes land nicely, the moments are more introspective hit a bit harder, and the film's overall perspective of Cage is rather positive amidst the playful jabs it makes. I can't help but feel that those who are more casual Cage fans or those who go to see this film in hopes that it is more of a parody of him might be surprised by how deep it goes. This is every version of Cage rolled up into one film, as we get action star Nic Cage, over-the-top Nic Cage, and meditative Nic Cage all in the same movie. Fans of Cage's work will likely be all in on this film, while those who aren't as familiar with it might find that their mileage will vary.

While Nicolas Cage is the undisputed star of the show here, the rest of the cast is also quite good. Pedro Pascal continues to show that he is one of our most consistently great actors, and that he is truly game for anything that is asked of him. He is such a gifted comedic actor, and this film gives him a character that plays to his strengths nicely. He has such great chemistry with Cage in the film, and they are absolutely hilarious together. It's the on-screen friendship that I didn't know I needed, and a highlight of the film for sure. I also really enjoyed Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz's contributions to the film, as they may not be on screen for much of the movie, but are quite funny when they do show up. Sharon Horgan is also quite good here as Cage's fictional wife, and plays off him quite well. She especially shines in the film's third act, where she's given much more to do and seems to truly relish it.

But of course the biggest standout is Cage himself. It is very admirable of him to make a movie that is so honest about who he is as a person and as an actor, and the fact that he is so willing to lean into this is icing on the cake. He is truly reckoning with his fame and with the way that people see him throughout the film, and while a lot of moments are played for laughs, there is an undercurrent of seriousness to most of them. It could be argued that this is Cage's mid-life crisis movie, as he is confronting his past, present, and future all throughout the film. This never feels heavy-handed or overly serious, but it is still handled with a fair amount of depth. Cage engages with the different personas he has embodied over the years so fully, and is rather honest in how he does this. He is so willing to play both the more outlandish qualities of his character and to get introspective about his life and career as well. His commitment to the film's version of him is the focal point of the whole movie, as it wouldn't work at all if he's not fully dialed in. But with Cage being a good sport and a consummate professional, he is able to pull off exactly what the film is asking of him, and gives an excellent performance as a result. It is perhaps one of the best instances of an actor playing themself, and will hopefully give some viewers a better idea of who Nicolas Cage actually is.

As someone who has followed Nicolas Cage's career for some time now, this film was an absolute treat. It is such a loving portrait of Cage, both as a person and an actor, and fans of him and his work will undoubtedly be delighted by it. On top of that, it is just so nice to see a mid-budget studio comedy again and for it to be as good as it is. I really do hope that this film does well at the box office, as it is a refreshingly original and funny film that honors one of cinema's most iconic and prolific actors. This film reminded me why I love Nic Cage as an actor, and just how important of a role he played as I was discovering my love of film. Hopefully, this film will remind others of how great of an actor he is, and show those who aren't as familiar with him that he is more than just a meme. If nothing else, this film will hopefully be a success, and allow Nicolas Cage to continue this resurgence we've seen from him lately. Either way, this is such a beautiful celebration of Nic Cage, and is a fun ride from start to finish.

Rating: 4/5

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