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First, let me clear the air: I liked FACE/OFF. It kicked a whole lot of ass. The performances were great, the script was good, the action scenes were indeed WooWorthy. But I was watching the film and something was bothering me. It had nothing to do with the film itself, because I enjoyed about every second of it. It was seeing Nic Cage in yet ANOTHER big Hollywood blockbuster action movie.
Why, Nic? We loved ou in RAISING ARIZONA. You were a cult sensation in VALLEY GIRL. You put the critics in awe in WILD AT HEART. You pulled off a brilliant performance in MOONSTRUCK. And then, come 1995, the Oscar goes to...
You paid your dues, Nic, and they paid off well. Finally, after years of hard work and dedication to your craft, you earned that little gold statue thanks to a powerful performance in LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Finally the Academy and the rest of the world know what many of us have for years: You are a teriffic actor with a great screen presence. But now that you've got your Oscar, what are you going to do with it?
It depends on who you are. Take Tom Hanks for instance. Hanks and Cage have very similair histories. Both have been in the business for many years, starting out in smaller films, mainly comedies. They steadily rose in the ranks, improving their talents in each film. Both tried their hands at dramatic roles and pulled them off. After a while, these guys weren't just actors; they were stars. And by the 1990's, they were Oscar-caliber performers. Hanks earned his first Oscar coup-de-grace in 1993, as his perfomance as Sam Baldwin in PHILADELPHIA earned him the trophy. So how did Hanks capitalize on this? I'm sure the offers were flying at him at a rapid pace, but Tom chose carefully. His next film was FORREST GUMP, and we all know what happened at the 1994 Oscars. He followed that performance with the admirable APOLLO 13, and wasn't seen again until his directoral debut in THAT THING YOU DO! Since then, we've only seen him in a handful of films: The flawed-yet-brilliant Steven Speilberg WWII epic SAVING PRIVATE RYAN; The critically applauded YOU'VE GOT MAIL, which reteamed him with WHEN HARRY MET SALLY cohorts Nora Ephron and Meg Ryan; and the Steven King piece THE GREEN MILE (unreleased at the time of this writing, mid-1999). Hanks even turned down the lead in the Oliver Stone biopic NIXON. That's how carefully he chose his roles.
The similarity between Cage and Hanks ends at the point where they go home with the little statue. While Hanks picked his roles carefully to assure the integrity and memory of his body of work, Cage went in the exact opposite route. First came the testosterone-laced alcatraz movie THE ROCK, which is, in my humble opinion, the biggest waste of three very viable stars that Hollywood has ever cranked out. Next up, CON AIR. The return of Cage to the world of Jerry Bruckheimer. And then FACE/OFF, a very good film and the return of John Woo to his niche, but still Hollywood blockbuster fare nonetheless. Since then? He's teamed up with Brian DePalma for SNAKE-EYES and Joel Schumacher for 8MM, and I think you all know by now how we here at MCFTR feel about those two directors.
Now, don't get me wrong: I still like Nicolas Cage. I still think he pulls off great performances even though his roles are a lot less demanding nowadays. But I'd like to see a little more variety. FACE/OFF is the closest thing to a challenging and dramatic role that Cage has done since LEAVING LAS VEGAS. But it could have been anyone in Cage's shoes for THE ROCK or CON AIR or SNAKE-EYES and you probably would have got the same effect. I don't like Cage any less since he's moved in to the role as action hero du jour, but I hope it's just a phase. I won't totally agree with Sean Penn's remark that "Nicolas Cage is no longer an actor." But I will say I've been disappointed with him for going on four years now. Make the money while you can, Nic, but don't forget where you came from.
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