Why It’s Time to Give Nicolas Cage the Respect He Deserves

Nicolas Cage
via Kristin / CC-BY-SA 2.0

There is no denying that Nicolas Cage is as divisive an actor as someone like Keanu Reeves. While Keanu Reeves is someone who has been lambasted over the years for his seemingly “wooden” acting style, his output over the last 30 years has been nothing short of stellar. While Nicolas Cage is someone who has made questionable movie choices, and the fact that he is an easy target, a meme generator machine if you will, means that it’s easy to dismiss Nicolas Cage. But let’s stop it right there; he is one of the best actors, not just of his generation, but of all time. It’s time to give Nicolas Cage the reverence and respect he deserves.

You Can’t Deny His Dedication to His Art

The man himself has range, in so many ways. He is the method actor’s method actor, and whether he is turning into a vampire in Vampire’s Kiss or being a game hunter like in the Massimiliano Musina production Primal, with Famke Janssen and Michael Imperioli, the fact is that he knows how to have fun with his projects. He sniffs out scripts completely left of center, which explains his diverse movie choices. This is likely due to his illustrious cultural and creative background, having chosen the surname Cage to avoid being associated with his uncle Francis Ford Coppola. But it’s clear to see that the popular lineage is thriving within him. 

From Adaptation directed by auteur Charlie Kaufman to that Oscar-winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas, all the way through to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, there is absolutely nothing he won’t touch, for better or worse. It’s clear to see that he is a man who is not just there for the paycheck but is there to actually learn something. 

With so many actors being guilty of phoning it in, you never get that sense that he’s giving nothing more than 110%. Even going method for his noir role in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, basing his tones on Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson, and in Kick-Ass, he does a great Adam West, albeit in his own Cagey way. 

Is He the Modern Definition of the “All-Round Entertainer?”

It’s clear to see that he follows his nose, and his diverse cultural background is no doubt the source of all of this, but Nicolas Cage is someone that has covered unlimited genres and has won critical acclaim, derision, and respect among his peers all at the same time, no mean feat. 

Ethan Hawke has been quoted as saying he is “the only actor since Marlon Brando that’s actually done anything new with the art” and the art of movie making is something that he clearly understands because the world of movie making is not just about doing art for art’s sake, but about recognizing that the world of movie making is, very simply, about entertainment

It’s clear to see based on his dedication to the action genre during the 90s, with arguably the greatest run of consecutive action movies on record. The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off are the last remnants of the peak action movie period that started in the mid-80s and petered out by the 90s. Nicolas Cage clearly had the hankering to do something with this genre, and you can even argue that movies like Bangkok Dangerous and Ghost Rider still showcase his predilection for popcorn fare, even with the latter being close to his heart (the Cage moniker came from Luke Cage and his love of comic books). 

He is someone who has covered romantic comedies, offbeat romances, neo-westerns, comic book movies, and the list goes on. With so many actors staying in their lane, it’s an absolute breath of fresh air to see that not only is Nicolas Cage still picking out dangerous offbeat projects, but is also balancing them out with the mainstream ones. The cynical can argue that his tax issues are the root cause of all of this, but dipping his toe in a whole number of different genres has made him one of the most entertaining and diverse actors over the last 40 years.

He is Still the Most Exciting Actor Out There Today

Looking at Nicolas Cage from the mid-2000s onwards, there’s a purple patch with flashes of brilliance, which is key to understanding the man himself. You see a questionable Bangkok Dangerous, or the sheer hatred thrown at his Wicker Man remake (which, to be fair, is justified), but you then hit movies like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which were balanced out with his National Treasure movies. He is an advent calendar of treats.

It can be easy to pick your own thread of Nicolas Cage movies and use that as your definitive version of the man himself. Many people love his action movies from the 90s, others look at him as the offbeat character actor from the 80s, and even younger kids have been exposed to him via The Croods, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, and Into the Spider-Verse. It’s obvious that his sheer volume and diversity are something to be applauded, but he still commands respect, and as Pig and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent have proved recently, he is someone still worthy of critical praise. 

David Lynch called him “the jazz musician of American acting,” this definition makes it clear to see just who Cage is; he feels his way through his roles, not just in terms of his choices, but the entire Cage package, his acting style and range on offer is unpredictable, energetic, but can also be soft, serene, and streamlined. You can pick a collection of Nicolas Cage movies and lump it into one genre, and do the same with so many others. The fact is that his extravagance is not just down to his movie choices, but to his acting, which is the reason we keep coming back to him.

Why We All Need to Cut Him Some Slack

The biggest problem with the internet is that it’s turned him into a meme machine. The wide-eyed, semi-insane images commonly referred to as “Cage rage,” has even been met with frustration by the man himself. It is unfair to attack him for what appears to be an over-the-top style of acting because this is not what he views it as. 

Accusations of overacting have hounded him, but as the man himself says, his style is a throughline between actors and shamanics, having referred to it as “Nouveau Shamanic,” German Expressionism, and “Western kabuki” on different occasions. Whatever he wants to call it, as an audience, it’s too easy to criticize something that has spawned a million memes. 

He is a meticulous method actor and yes, is someone who errs on the side of eccentricity, but aren’t all of the best actors the ones who are slightly on the edge of reality? Ethan Hawke’s comments compared him to Brando and likened him too to the old troubadours, mixing naturalism with presentational style acting. Presentational style acting is perfect for the theater, naturalism is amazing for the movie camera that picks up on the subtleties, and he is more than astute in his observations that to actually get audiences to watch him, he’s got to combine the two. 

His sheer range of movies, dedication to his work, and the fact that we all love some strain of Nicolas Cage movie is a testament to why we’ve got to stop with the Nicolas Cage bashing. The best movies according to Empire Online run the gamut of his performances, which is no mean feat. From Adaptation to Raising Arizona and lesser-known movies like Red Rock West and Mandy, as well as his Oscar-winning role in Leaving Las Vegas, he is someone who, like Keanu Reeves, has transcended, and because of his affiliation with the offbeat, we can find it easy to critique Nicolas Cage. 

He is an actor that has erratic energy and spontaneity, wide-eyed bulging building bombast, but we also have to look at the other side and look at his underrated and understated roles. Pig is, by far, a career-best in recent years, but Adaptation and Leaving Las Vegas showcases the vulnerable side of his abilities to plunge the greatest of emotional depths. It is amazing to look back and see that after winning an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, his left turn into the action star du jour is something that nobody would even do now. Besides, don’t the best actors keep you guessing? He is someone the movie business needs to hold dear to their hearts. The industry is replete with executives looking for a quick buck with the talent of the day. The fact is that this approach to movie-making is throwing forces of nature like Nicolas Cage inside. Nicolas Cage is, in many ways, the anti-Sean Penn. Sean Penn is a serious methodical actor with a political bent, and as Nicolas Cage has said himself, he is the opposite, but they are two sides to the same coin. We see Sean Penn as almost defined by his innate Sean Penn-ness, the fact is that the only Nicolas Cage we know is the one we see right now, because he’s never moving. An exciting, meticulous, and absolutely bonkers actor, it is time to give him the greatest of respect.