Making fun of Nic Cage's performances has become something of a national pastime over the last few years. It's hard to imagine another performer who won a Best Actor Oscar following the same career trajectory Cage has over the past 15 years, but that's part of what makes the actor so fascinating. It seems like it's been a lifetime since we witnessed Cage's heartbreaking turn as a man drinking himself to death in 'Leaving Las Vegas.' In fact, an entire new generation of film fans is more likely to remember Cage as the actor who donned a bear costume and punched a woman in the face in the abominable remake of 'The Wicker Man' than as an actor who took home Oscar gold. These over-the-top performances in bad films have become something of a hallmark when discussing the actor's recent career, but Cage isn't just some ham chewing the scenery in front of the camera – underneath it all, it's clear the man can still act.
Hopefully, audiences might see some of that simmering talent when Cage stars in this week's 'Season of the Witch,' but in the meantime, everyone can get their fill of 'crazy Cage' by checking out this clip from Werner Herzog's sublimely brilliant 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.' It's a fantastic example of how Cage can go totally outside the box yet still be mesmerizing.
Hit the jump for more on this classic Cage moment. Be advised that the clip is Not Safe For Work.
'Bad Lieutenant' isn't a remake or a sequel to Abel Ferrara's cult classic 1992 film (which featured Harvey Keitel in the lead role), but more like an alternate reality take. In some ways, it's also sort of like a companion piece to 'The Professional.' There are numerous strange parallels between Cage's Terrence McDonagh and Gary Oldman's Stansfield, the crooked cop in Besson's much loved French action film. Both are corrupt cops. They have a tendency to dress alike – both actors wear suits that are roughly the same color. Both are notorious drug addicts with a screw loose. The list just goes on and on.
In Herzog's film, Cage plays a drug-addicted cop tasked with solving the execution-style murders of a family of illegal immigrants from Senegal. While trying to do that, he winds up in debt to his loan shark, dodging internal affairs, trying to keep access to his unlimited stash of narcotics from the property room, and protecting his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes). Naturally, all of this starts to take a toll on Cage as the story progresses.
The actor's portrayal of McDonagh is off-kilter from the film's first moments, and there are no shortage of classic moments of Cage losing his composure (the "his soul is still dancing" scene was a strong contender for being the focus of this column), but this one particular scene really captures the essence of what makes 'Bad Lieutenant' so compelling.
In the sequence, Cage has returned to visit the grandmother of his one eyewitness after the kid disappears from his custody. The grandmother takes care of an elderly white woman in an upscale nursing facility – a fact Cage uses to get what he wants.
As the sequence opens, we know things are going to be wild right away – Cage is hiding behind the open door, shaving with an electric razor. Things only get crazier from there as our bad lieutenant informs his hosts that he's only had an hour's worth of sleep in the last few days and that being courteous is starting to get in the way of him doing his job.
Cage then approaches the women, strokes the wheelchair-bound lady's face, and removes her oxygen tube – leaving her gasping for air while he explains to his witness' grandmother that no one saw him come in and she'll have a hard time convincing anyone that she didn't kill the old woman. When that doesn't get the response he's looking for, he yanks out his .44 Magnum and sticks the barrel to the grandmother's forehead – cursing at her the whole time. After getting the information he wants, he sticks the oxygen tube back on the old woman's face and tells her to "suck it up" before berating her and her caregiver, suggesting they ought to die. He then yanks out his gun again and goes spastic telling them he hates them both and they're the reason "this f*cking country is going down the drain."
Cage is disturbingly hilarious in the clip, his maniacal ramblings and twitchy/sweaty mannerisms give the scene a real air of unpredictability. McDonagh is a loose cannon and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could hurt these women – but that air of menace coexists with the absurd hilarity of it all. When Terrence starts ranting about the old woman sucking up her children's inheritance, it's such a bizarre moment that we can't help but giggle. This is what makes Cage's work in 'Bad Lieutenant' so impressive – he's a degenerate slimeball but we like and root for him anyway. He's a complete villain in this scene – these women haven't done anything wrong – but the audience doesn't sympathize with them as much as they laugh at Cage's hysterics. That's one of the hallmarks of a great performance, when an actor can make an audience empathize with a despicable character. Cage pulls it off flawlessly in this film.
The rest of the actor's work in 'Bad Lieutenant' is no less impressive, proving that maybe there's a method to Cage's madness when he plays roles in such an exaggerated fashion. Perhaps it simply took a director of Herzog's abilities to place the performance in a proper context – or maybe Cage just got lucky. Either way, this is one of the best moments in 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" and proof that Cage can still turn in a classic performance when he feels like it. Check it out for yourself below – and be forewarned that it has some rough language making it Not Safe For Work.