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It’s Time to Appreciate the Age of Cage

Age of Cage is a perfect synergy of author and actor. You’d be hard-pressed to think of a performer with a more interesting career over the last four decades of work than Nicolas Cage, who went from a fascinating young star in the ‘80s to an action headliner in the ‘90s, only to keep morphing as the film industry changed around him. Age of Cage doesn’t just chronicle the career of the Oscar-winning star but uses his trajectory as a mirror for the entire film world as public interests and the business needs of studios changed around Nicolas Cage’s career choices. Most of all, it captures how arguably no one has been as chameleonic as Cage, an actor as willing to do a small indie as he is a major blockbuster; someone who can appear in a movie by Sion Sono or Michael Bay. He’s done every genre and every style. The reason he has become such a meme generator isn’t just because of his sometimes over-the-top acting but because he’s done it all. And Keith Phipps has covered most of it. After joining The A.V. Club in 1997, he would become that formative company’s editor before spinning off to form The Dissolve. He appears regularly all over the internet, including Variety, GQ, and Rolling Stone, and Age of Cage captures his deep knowledge of film history and sharp wit in every page.

Phipps adopts a chronological approach, moving deftly through each chapter of Cage’s career, dropping interesting trivia and anecdotes from each production with analysis of what it meant to Cage’s trajectory and the film world as a whole. You don’t really grasp how much Cage has been a unique part of the cinema scene for four decades until you see it all laid out like this. Sure, there have been ups and downs—and Phipps isn’t afraid of criticizing Cage’s choices—but the fact that he gave arguably his best performance last year in “Pig” just proves that he's far from done.

Rather than continue to rave about this must-own book, I thought it might be interesting to allow Roger Ebert into the chat, highlighting some of the times that he’s praised Cage’s work in his reviews with links to each of them below. Get your Age of Cage here.

Moonstruck

“In a career of playing goofballs, Cage has never surpassed his Ronny Cammareri. Who else could bring such desperation to his speech when he declares his love? "Love don't make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die."”

Honeymoon in Vegas

“Nicolas Cage is one of those actors some people like and others find excessive. I tend to like him, especially when he is consumed by love, as he was in "Moonstruck" and is again here. He sweats and squirms in the key scene, as he tries to explain to Parker that, yes, he loves her, but no, he can't pay his poker losses, and so, yes, maybe she should play along with this sinister gambler's weird obsession.”

Guarding Tess

“MacLaine and Cage are really very good here. MacLaine is playing a woman probably intended to be 10 or 15 years older than her, and she does it without affecting any of the mannerisms of "age" that often make such performances feel false. She is alert, she is smart, she knows what's going on, she keeps her secrets, and if she has been reduced to playing mind games with her bodyguard, at least she plays them cleverly. Cage, who can cheerfully go over the top (see "Wild at Heart" and "Honeymoon in Vegas") is restrained here, yet very likable. We feel for this man who has no life of his own - except to guard a woman who has no life of her own.”

It Could Happen to You

“Cage and Fonda are, of course, more or less destined to fall in love with one another, but Bergman never goes for heavy-handed schmaltz, and the whole movie has the same lighthearted big city spirit as the New York Post headlines that follow the story. The movie is not so much about romance as about goodheartedness, which is a rarer quality, and not so selfish. And Cage has a certain gentleness that brings out nice soft smiles on Fonda's face.”

Leaving Las Vegas

“Cage's performance in these early scenes is an acutely observed record of a man coming to pieces. He shows Ben imploding, rigid in his attempt to maintain control, to smile when he does not feel a smile, to make banter when he wants to scream. He needs a drink. During the movie, Cage will take Ben into the regions of hell.”

Face/Off

“This is an actor's dream, and Travolta and Cage make the most of it. They spend most of the movie acting as if they're in each other's bodies - Travolta acting like Cage, and vice versa. Through the plot device of a microchip implanted in his larynx, Travolta is allegedly able to sound more like Cage - enough, maybe, to fool the terrorist's paranoid brother, who is in prison and knows the secret of the biological weapon.”

Bringing Out the Dead

“Nicolas Cage is an actor of great style and heedless emotional availability: He will go anywhere for a role, and this film is his best since "Leaving Las Vegas." I like the subtle way he and Scorsese embody what Frank has learned on the job, the little verbal formulas and quiet asides that help the bystanders at suffering. He embodies the tragedy of a man who has necessary work and is good at it, but in a job that is never, ever over.”

Adaptation

“And Cage. There are often lists of the great living male movie stars: De Niro, Nicholson and Pacino, usually. How often do you see the name of Nicolas Cage? He should always be up there. He's daring and fearless in his choice of roles, and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air.”

Matchstick Men

“Cage is accused of showboating, but I prefer to think he swings for the fences. Sometimes he strikes out ("Gone in 60 Seconds"), but more often he connects (he took enormous risks in "Leaving Las Vegas," "Bringing Out the Dead" and "Adaptation"). He has a kind of raging zeal that possesses his characters; what in another actor would be overacting is, with Cage, a kind of fearsome intensity. There's an Oscar nomination here for him.”

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

“No one is better at this kind of performance than Nicolas Cage. He's a fearless actor. He doesn't care if you think he goes over the top. If a film calls for it, he will crawl to the top hand over hand with bleeding fingernails. Regard him in films so various as "Wild at Heart" and "Leaving Las Vegas." He and Herzog were born to work together. They are both made restless by caution.”

Read more of Roger Ebert on Nicolas Cage here.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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