Rocks Reviews: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal
Director: Tom Gormican
Streaming: It’s not. Buy it you morons.
Everyone has a favourite actor. It’s not much of a secret to say that mine is unequivocally Nicolas Cage.
Every film that I watch him in, I find him an utterly magnetic presence, whether watching a film from his absolute 90s heyday where he had an almost unrivalled run of Box-Office smashes, to his direct-to-video wilderness after the turn of the Millenia. Yes, some of these films don’t have a great amount of credit in the bank as far as movie values go, but I’ve never watched Cage and thought “He’s phoning it in”. He delivers.
You can imagine my delight over the past half a decade as films like Mandy, Color Out of Space and Pig have brought him firmly back into the public consciousness, a place where he has always sat on the periphery even as a figure of fun — a state that should never have happened given the talent of the man. Have you seen Army of One? And if not, why the fuck not?
And that’s where “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” comes in.
I remember reading about this film is 2019, and seeing the premise of it and being utterly obsessed with the sheer idea of the film. Cage playing himself in all of his greatest roles? I mean, if anyone could pull it off, it could only be him surely?
It was magnificent to see the build of coverage in the run up to the film as well. This film really captured the imagination of the public and film media in a way that Cage Films just hadn’t, save for ones that he had supported in like Kick-Ass, where he was more of a peripherally interesting figure rather than a bombastic leading actor. And then the reviews started coming in and it just got better as praise upon praise was lavished on the film by the press and everyone who saw it. I obviously very much looked at one side of it but I don’t recall seeing much about it that wasn’t overwhelmingly positive. I was absolutely out-of-my-mind excited about it.
Stupidly, it took me nearly 4 weeks to see it after it was released. The timing of it coincided with a particularly busy period of life where every opportunity to see it seemed to be wiped away from me in the rigmarole of existence. I honestly thought I would have to wait and watch it in demand, such was my complete inability to break out of my routine, which felt like an inexhaustible cop-out after my hyperbole of the excitement of seeing this fucking bonkers vision brought to life on the big screen. How could I not see this film?
I remember sitting on a Wednesday night at around 21:45, bored, and suddenly thinking of looking at film times. I found a sole listing, for 22:10, at a multiplex that night, with no future viewings anywhere. A frantic drive and run into the cinema brought me to a sparsely populated cinema where I took my seat in the upper middle and watched as it unfolded in front of me.
From the moment it opened to the last moments as Cage finishes lounging in a living room with his family watching Paddington 2, I was absolutely enthralled. This isn’t just a love letter to Cage and all that’s he’s brought to cinema, this is a love letter to Hollywood and film as a medium and everything that is great about it.
I watch a high volume of utterly dross films, both for my own amusement and subsequent torture as I write about them in painstaking detail for an audience of literally people. I do this for a couple of reasons:
- I like writing. I like making people laugh using imagery and violent comparison without any regard for anything actually making sense.
- It allows me to get the varying storm of utter madness out of my head. My job and life is nothing like I imagined it to be when I left school and was enrolled in a creative industry course. Not that I can complain, I enjoy the vast majority of my life in comparison to many who struggle/gave struggled and I an extremely grateful that by falling on my arse upwards things have worked out. That said, my creative side just doesn’t get a chance to stretch its wings in the ways I once imagined.
It’s films like this that make me glad that I can put some words down on a virtual slab of paper and try to share the vast sense of wondrous escapism that a good film gives me. Watching this film is an utter utter joy because you can feel the enjoyment from all of those involved and their utter belief in everything unfolding on screen being an engaging way for people to escape from the monotony of existence into a place of spectacular joy.
The director, Tom Gormican, apparently sent the script to Cage and he turned it down 3 or 4 times before Gormican sent him a personal letter about his vision for the film. Its stories like this that make you understand the care with which this film was made, as Gormican weaves a tapestry of magic over a plot with more nuts than a hibernating squirrel, based around a version of Nicolas Cage that lives on a diet of grain alcohol and scenery with extra lashings of ham. I mean even in its quiet moments, Cage gives a performance larger than several Polynesian islands. It is fucking gargantuan, and gargantuan Cage is probably my favourite of the many Cage’s that we have witnessed over the years along with the funniest.
You’re never far from a laugh with this film. I spent much of my time watching it in a perilous state of trying to maintain my composure without ending up a snorting heaving mess of laughter. Much of this owes to those around Cage in this film with a supporting cast plucked from the gods. Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz are relatively underutilised in this film, but their chemistry zings off the screen as they go about sending up the CIA in an almost Carry-On way, if Kenneth Williams got really fucking angry about The Croods. Sharon Horgan adds a wonderful dose of acidic brutalism as Cage’s ex-wife, a woman who drifts between wanting what’s good for him and berating him for the fact his manic self-destruction tarnishes her life in increasingly overt and disturbing ways. And then there is the effervescent Pedro Pascal.
I hadn’t seen Pascal in much up until this film. Having looked through his filmography I can confirm I’ve watched The Mandolorian and thoroughly enjoyed his auditory and physical spectre create a show which in my opinion outstrips anything else in the Disney + Star Wars lets-fucking-milk-this-increasingly-bare-cash-cow-averse, along with his roles in Kingsman 2 and The Equalizer 2 — which are enjoyable performances to watch as you smash popcorn into your mouth with the force of a cornering superbike and leave your eyes on ‘blink only’ mode.
In this, he plays Javi — a Cage superfan who hires him to appear at his birthday and fawns over him in exactly the way that anyone in their right mind would be should they meet Cage. His character is perfect as the loveable doughball arms dealer who faced with the greatest of horrors — a disappointing idol — throws to the wind any vestiges of cool and sits watching live-action kids films whilst huffing impressive amounts of alcohol and baring his soul to Cage to try and escape the bizarre pseudo-prison of his own existence that he lives in.
With Cage trying to escape his fading stardom and Javi keen to talk about nothing but this, against all the odds, they come together creating one of the best double acts seen in fiction. There are married couples that would kill for the zing between these two. They behave like two excited children at a birthday party upon seeing a buffet exclusively made of sweets and fireworks, with their standoff at the top of the cliff a particularly hilarious touching moment as they realise how much they have come to depend on each other.
And then there is Cage. Any actor sending themselves up tends to do it in a Saturday Night Live style manner of a short sketch followed by some viral social media clips and then disappearing into the ether of their own rectum, surrounded by an entourage with the fortitude of a wank stained rag. Cage took a massive fucking gamble here, let’s not beat around the bush. Doing this film could have killed off the cult-relevance he regained with the likes of Pig and sent him back into the doldrums of making films with Hayden fucking Christiansen.
But he pulls this off with every fibre of his fucking being alive and blazing in its fucking magnificence. From his character study he delivers in an audition — self-sabotaging a chance at a role he was dying to get, to his drunken appearance at his daughter’s birthday party where he sits down to deliver an emotional tribute to her on the piano only to completely humiliate himself and everyone around him, the set up for his character is mired in tragi-comedy and could quite easily set this film on a different path.
But the roaring fire of fun he creates with Pascal - giving rebirth to a soul which he thought was long out of commission — and his subsequent flourishing into a 4-dimensional-juggernaut of laughs, fraught panic and love is utterly mindblowing to watch. The friendship between him and Pascal is a basic joy, as you see friendship in its purest form blossom and career into the increasingly batshit developments of the plot. Did you ever think you would watch Cage bidding on a waxwork of himself in ‘Face/Off’ in a museum in a private fortress on a Balearic island? No?! Well why didn’t you because frankly it’s the most fucking obvious thing to have happened in film ever.
I want Cage to wander round looking at more batshit memorabilia and making extortionate cash bids. It’d be like Salvage Hunters brought to you by the mind of Peter O’Toole. I want to sit next to Cage in his car as he yells along to Creedence Clearwater Revival. I wouldn’t even hugely object to being turned into a septugenarian Italian gangster for the purpose of rescuing my family from the catacombs of a historic Spanish pile on a mountain. And as you get swept along in the ride of this film, I’d be astonished if you don’t feel exactly the same way. If you don’t, then you’re probably the kind of person that enjoys the acting of Chris Pine and thinks Michael Bay could go bigger.
Basically I fucking hate you.
Let’s be fair here, the plot is utterly fucking nuts and in any other setting I would be fully focused on it and nothing else. But it’s almost impossible to be as it is the perfect vehicle for Cage to become utterly unhinged and lather himself across the scene . Even as he makes out with Nicky — his Woganised self — it somehow doesnt seem too much. It’s beautiful, man. The utilisation of Cage as a de-facto secret agent is a masterstroke — watching him try to explain that his acting skills would have detected any badness in Javi because he’s a trained actor is hilarious. It’s the best ‘honorary agent’ status granted in film since Alan Partridge got involved in a siege, and he didn’t get chased by gangsters after swapping shoes with Brendan Gleeson.
I utterly fucking adore this film and everything about it. This film knows what it is and what it isn’t and delivers an experience so joyous I’m pretty sure I pissed rainbows for about 72 hours afterwards (and I didn’t ingest LSD). I’m sure others might watch it with a slightly more objective eye than me and point our flaws or moments where the film gets self indulgent. It probably does.
The film ends with the climactic action sequence cutting to a film that Cage and Javi have made with Cage plunging a knife into the heart of the villain followed by a wild ovation as their film is received like the golden fucking prize it is. Cage observes all, embraces all, and then retires to his mansion with his family to share in the glory of Paddington 2 with them, hereby vanquishing his earlier ‘Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ induced family strife.
With that the cycle of his character from overblown, embossed-in-self-anguish washed-up Nicolas Cage to being the funny and gloriously over-the-top presence that we all love is complete. No encores, no stupid sequels, this is a redemption story for a man who shouldn’t need redemption but needs it for the sake of his soul.
In summary, I hope that you can watch this film and that it can be a reason for you to love film too.
Rating: *Insert Cage Face/Off singing GIF*