"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Nic Cage Film Fest: Wild at Heart

This is a part of the CAGEFEST over at the Blog Cabins.

Remember when Nicolas Cage wasn’t a sell-out? His sell by date was 1995 with Leaving Las Vegas and he’s still forcing the world to swill down his sour-ass milk. Let’s go back to a more innocent time when Cage was still capable of exciting, unhinged performances like the one he delivered in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), an unexpectedly explosive adaptation of Barry Gifford’s unadorned novel, which went on to win the coveted Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. At its core, Lynch’s film is a passionate love story between a couple whose love for each other remains constant despite all of the obstacles that life throws at them, including a psychotically over-protective mother, a dentally-challenged psychopath, and a grizzled rocket scientist.

Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) are young lovers on the run from her mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd). Sailor has jumped parole (after serving time for manslaughter) and takes off with Lula for sunny California. This doesn’t sit too well with Lula’s mom who sends her boyfriend, (and private investigator), and, unbeknownst to him, her lover, (and ruthless gangster) on the trail of the young lovers.

Cage plays Sailor as an instantly iconic figure, where pointing an accusing finger at Marietta (after killing a man with his bare hands no less) is akin to a declaration of war. Sailor, like many of the characters in this film, is larger than life with his snakeskin jacket credo (“This is a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom!”), his unorthodox style of dancing (involving martial arts kicks and punches), and his habit of singing Elvis Presley songs to Lula in public. Cage not only affects an Elvis-like drawl but also sings two songs made famous by the King.

At this point in his career, Cage gravitated to oddball roles like this (Vampire’s Kiss anyone?). There is a show-stopping moment where Sailor and Lula go see speed metal band Powermad at a nightclub and a guy dances too close to her. Sailor gets the band to stop in mid-song and orders the man to apologize. Naturally, he refuses and Sailor delivers a well-deserved smackdown to the hapless guy. As if that wasn’t cool enough, he then instructs Powermad to back him on a note perfect rendition of “Love Me” while the women in the audience scream in adoration in surreal slow motion like something out of a dream. Cage not only pulls off this performance but makes it look good. It is also an important scene in that it demonstrates Sailor’s love for Lula and his willingness to back it up with action.

Wild at Heart is arguably one of the most romantic characters that Cage has ever portrayed. While most people remember the actor’s wild antics in this film, he also displays a tender, sensitive side when he’s alone with Dern. There is real chemistry between these two actors which is crucial as their characters are supposed to be deeply in love. Cage also demonstrated his ability to tap into the equally idiosyncratic sensibility of David Lynch at a time when the filmmaker was a pop culture darling thanks to the Twin Peaks television series. The result is one of the most intense, incendiary films in both of their careers.

Here's Sailor in action:


  1. Yes, Nicholas Cage in Wild at Heart is pretty... wild... but i mean, what's wrong with Leaving Las Vegas, but sure, there are travesties like face off and both national treasures (more like national disasters... i saw some of #1 on tv sunday and... wow). bangkock dangerous? hmmm...

  2. LEAVING LAS VEGAS was the truly last great thing he did, IMO. After that, it went mostly downhill. Sure, there have the occasional blips, like FACE/OFF but stuff like NATIONAL TREASURE, while it is entertaining fare, is strictly paycheck material.

  3. I was thinking this the other day while driving around Los Angeles. As soon as Nic added the hairpiece, he stopped thinking for himself. Remember him in Deadfall? Now that was a fucking tour de force that didn't set off your gag reflex.

  4. Hah! Never seen it but I checked it out on the IMDB and it sounds gahd-awful. Of course, there is also his "wonderful" turn in FIRE BIRDS... TOP GUN but with helicopters. How could that premise possibly go wrong?