Did you see any of the three big studio releases this weekend? Early box office returns indicate that Alex Proyas' apocalyptic science-fiction drama Knowing drew larger audiences than John Hamburg's bro-mantic comedy I Love You, Man or Tony Gilroy's clever Duplicity. Putting it in star terms, it looks like Nicolas Cage beat out the teaming of Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, as well as one-time box office champ Julia Roberts and Clive Owens. But did audiences flock to Knowing because of Nicolas Cage, or despite him?
I'm in the latter camp, and that's because his track record of choosing interesting projects has taken a nose dive since he won an Academy Award in 1996 for Leaving Las Vegas. As well expressed by John Anderson in The Washington Post, Cage's performance in Con Air marked the turning point, after which there have been "few detours from the action star/blockbuster track upon which Cage has trod with particularly graceless aplomb, and virtually no humor at all, except on top of his head, where his hair is continual source of mirth and mystery."
As I watched Cage as a college professor and widowed father in Knowing, I was struck by how hard he seemed to be Acting (yes, with a capital "A"), emoting with every muscle in his body vibrating, never giving a straight line reading for fear it might be considered ordinary or unimportant. Anderson wrote: "He glowers, he hunches, he looks meaningfully into the distance without it meaning anything at all."
Like Anderson, I miss the juicy, funny, very human Cage of Raising Arizona, Valley Girl, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Wild at Heart. He was sometimes overindulgent, but he compelled me to watch what he would do next. Not anymore. Do you still love Nicolas Cage?