The busiest film actor title used to apply to Gene Hackman and Michael Caine. Nicolas Cage puts both to shame.
Disclaimer: I like this guy as an actor. He owned the 1980s and 1990s. The fact that I like many of the films he made in that era, I’m willing to spend 100 minutes watching a current, greatly inferior film. But, I miss the days of The Rock, Con Air or even National Treasure.
What happened to this guy? An Academy Award winning actor, now king of the direct to video market. Cage makes so many films a year he even had three released in the same week. His biography over the past 20 years reads like a supermarket tabloid. Four marriages and a compulsion with buying expensive real estate. He bought estates, and even a castle, like an ordinary person shops for a new shirt. When you make $40M in a year, and $150M during the peak period of your career, you have money to spend, and Cage spent it. The Great Recession and real estate downturn happened and making loan payments was difficult, as was selling properties for what he paid for them.
Cage has the distinction of being one of Lisa Marie Presley’s husbands. That union lasted only a few months. His personal life is his own matter, but it helps understand his need to work and make lots of money. Apparently, he’s spent years paying off debts.
In recent years, Cage makes five or six films a year, but few, if any, that you’ve ever heard of. That’s a shame. It isn’t his acting talent that deserted him, just his judgment. In all fairness, these might be the best films he is now offered. While others might disagree with me, I consider him a very talented actor, despite the panned performances and lackluster films.
A Score to Settle (2019) is one of six he released last year. You could see flashes of Cage’s old warmth and charm, but he looked more bored than anything. He’s not the hot pistol in Hollywood anymore, but there are plenty of “mature” roles in better films than A Score to Settle.”
His last film of note was National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), the sequel to National Treasure, which was a sizable hit.
Cage started out the 2000s with some high profile films: Gone in 60 Seconds; The Family Man; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin; A Christmas Carol; Windtalkers; Sonny; Adaption.; Matchstick Men; National Treasure; Lord of War; The Weather Man; The Ant Bully; World Trade Center; Wicker Man; Ghost Rider.
He made all of those listed films from 2000-2007. Some were hits, others misses, but mostly quality films. His pace of making films had already accelerated. As an A-List actor, his career seemed to have peaked. While an Academy Award winner and recent big box office attraction, Cage no doubt received a lot of offers. Were they for big studio productions or quickie films for an easy paycheck? From 2007, there is only one big studio film on his credits. As the quality and paychecks of the films he selected decreased, he simply made more films, but further diluted his offers.
In a recent interview with the L.A. Times, Cage responded to a question about why is working so much:
“Well, what I say to that is I’m a working dog. I’m at my best when I’m working and when I’m not working I can be a little self-destructive. I can be somebody that has a lack of focus. And I feel that by working, it keeps me on point. It keeps my instrument on point.
A while ago I made the decision that I was going to go more in terms of the golden-age actors in the old studio system, where they were making 150 movies by the time their career was up. Or even someone like Michael Caine.”
With the New York Times, he offered to go a little deeper:
I don’t want to dance around this: How much has money driven your work choices? “I can’t go into specifics or percentages or ratios, but yeah, money is a factor. I’m going to be completely direct about that. There’s no reason not to be. There are times when it’s more of a factor than not. I still have to feel that, whether or not the movie around me entirely works, I’ll be able to deliver something and be fun to watch. But yes, it’s no secret that mistakes have been made in my past that I’ve had to try to correct. Financial mistakes happened with the real estate implosion that occurred, in which the lion’s share of everything I had earned was pretty much eradicated. But one thing I wasn’t going to do was file for bankruptcy. I had this pride thing where I wanted to work my way through anything, which was both good and bad. Not all the movies have been blue chip, but I’ve kept getting closer to my instrument. And maybe there’s been more supply than demand, but on the other hand, I’m a better man when I’m working. I have structure. I have a place to go. I don’t want to sit around and drink mai tais and Dom Pérignon and have mistakes in my personal life. I want to be on set. I want to be performing. In any other business, hard work is something to behold. Why not in film performance?”
A Score to Settle was on par with his other films of the past decade. The other actor of note in the film was Benjamin Bratt, in a very small role. From the looks of this, Bratt’s career is in trouble. Bratt is a fine actor, but maybe his offers are thinning out?
In this film, Cage plays a man just released from prison after 19 years, for a murder he did not commit, but his boss did. The film actually has two stories, Cage’s character reconnects with his now adult son, and he is out to kill his former boss and partner. Cage looks all of his 55 years, which is helpful because he plays a man of that age. A Score to Settle is not an awful film; Cage genuinely feels the pain of his life slipping away and the self-anger of missing his son grow up. The revenge part of the film’s story, he’s done so many of those and it’s not an interesting storyline. The production qualities are very basic, and other than Bratt, you won’t know the actors. In the film comments, Cage says he was attracted to the relationship aspect of the film.
Cage is a million miles away from Moonstruck or even Gone in 60 Seconds. My hope is that Cage will look for some character roles, not starring roles, in much better films to rebuild his career. He has several announced projects in the pipeline including a film where he plays himself. The guy is still a fine actor, but he’s wasting his gift. Time does not stand still and any actor has only a finite amount of it.