People see Nicholas Cage as a bit of a mongoose.
Set him loose in a den of snakes and it’s a feral bloodbath. Book him as entertainment at a children’s birthday party and… it’s still a bloodbath.
The other day my coworker left his screen unlocked. Whilst he was off hosing down the marble, we installed a plugin on his browser that changed every image, on every website, to pictures of Nic Cage. BBC News was especially amusing.
All of which is to say- the man has a reputation. If you need a guy to scream the alphabet song and/or fly-kick an old lady in the head, the popular wisdom is that Nic Cage is your man. I’m about 100% certain that it was the late Roger Ebert who once said “Nicholas Cage is not even an actor in the traditional sense, he’s more of an abstract natural occurrence, like clouds, or waves, or some other mental shit.” 
The second half of Mandy, out in the UK cinemas October 12th, more than delivers on the barrels-of-batshit ‘Cagehem’. It’s B-Movie splatter-fest madness, but so completely uninhibited that it speeds into surrealist David Lynchian fever-dream territory and keeps going. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still just a movie (and you are still a jaded, joyless millennial who’s not genuinely smiled since 2010) so… I’m not going to over-hype it. There’s plenty of other reviewers gushing about how the film will “literally make you poo out your OWN SKULL in SHOCK!!” 
Mandy won’t give you a heart attack, but it’s as deep into the deep end of the crazy pool as popular cinema has swum since mother!
There’s a moment when you can actually see Cage kick into that special Wickerman gear. I think it was when he responded to the seven-foot-tall leather-bondage biker-monster stabbing him in the chest with “You’ve ruined my favourite shirt!”
None of which is said to take the piss. I mean, re-read that last paragraph. Mandy is fucking bananas. It’s the most fun I’ve had watching a horror since Hereditary (albeit for entirely different reasons). And Nic Cage is masterful – as per usual.
I say this with no sense of sarcasm; Cage is a gem. Bees and all. I know that might seem difficult to accept, so let’s break it down into a list. I’m told people like lists;
1. Nicholas Cage is a Shower, not a Grower.
Did you watch Ozark on Netflix? If not, you missed a competent-if-generic TV drama starring Jason Bateman. It failed to really evolve beyond aping Breaking Bad and ended up all feeling a bit “Sunday at 9pm on BBC One”, if you get me.
It was also one of those vehicles where an actor leaps from comedy into “serious acting”, a la Steve Carrel in Little Miss Sunshine (or Foxcatcher, for those who’ve not been paying attention). Credit where it’s due, Bateman’s Arrested Development-honed skill for playing the ‘straight man’ transitioned confidently into the terse, smart dialogue of Ozark. Bateman mumblecore’d the shit out of that money launderer. His muted, chilly performance was Ozark’s most pleasant surprise.
That was… until the scene in the Season One finale, when Bateman’s character is being tortured. It turns out that ‘Mr. Ozark’ (as I’m about 100% certain the character was called) reacts to his toenails are being yanked out with pliers exactly how Michael Bluth reacts to touching a Cornballer.
Buttoned up tax-dodgers muttering complex schemes? Bateman can do. Unfiltered, primal catharsis? Bateman can not do. Just as (I’m about 100% certain) Elsa sang in Disney’s Frozen– “He can’t let go!”
…You know what my point here is going to be. Not every actor has the balls to go full-nuts, nor the testicles to go full-scrotum. Nic Cage does. Nic Cage is all balls.
No, but really. He’s fearless. He jumps first. Sure, you can half-ass a movie, pulling your punches, quietly hoping “maybe it won’t be so bad if I just play it safe”. Maybe that emotionally-distant ‘Yorgos Lanthimos’ thing is technically the smart move; keep it boring and you’ll certainly not end up in any embarrassing Youtube compilations. The problem, though, is that by guaranteeing it’ll never be awful, you also guarantee it’ll never be awesome.
2. Nic Cage knows Nic Cage (probably really well)
“People think I’m not in on the joke,” Cage told the Guardian in 2013.
When he first got the script for Mandy, I’ll take a gamble and say it probably didn’t read like a soft-treading costume drama. Unless you consider “I made this axe myself” to constitute a “costume”.
Cage read the script. He read the page where his role would involve lighting a cigarette with the still-burning, decapitated head of what I can only call ‘Satanic Gimp Monster #3’. He read that, and presumably thought “Cool, it’s that thing I’m really good at!”
3. Nic Cage has a Volume button. It’s on the side. No, that’s Source. You want volume. No, don’t press Source. Look, now you’ve put him on HDMI 2. There’s not even anything on HDMI 2. No, it’s not switched off, there’s just not anything on HDMI 2 so it’s not- look, Mum, just give me the remote.
I’ve been focusing on the second hour of Mandy. Every review has. But Mandy, and with it Nic Cage, play a game of two halves.
The first hour is an ethereal, spacey mood-build of blending faces, Charles Manson allegories and the most intrusive Aurura Borealis since that one localised entirely in Skinner’s kitchen. Most critics have talked about Mandy like it’s a grab-you-by-the-throat-and-don’t-stop-hatefuck (which it is), but few have given fair ink to the first half. The film does as much work winding the monkey up as it does letting him go.
Throughout that slow-burn establishing act, Cage walks a difficult tightrope; one of playing a gentle-giant (with enough warmth that his later low-points are empathetic) but also whilst keeping a hulkish, brooding time-bomb on the simmer. Much like the Iron Giant, you’ve gotta simultaneously buy his character as both good-natured and a potential one-man-Chernobyl, ready to blow. It’s a hard sell. Just the ever-disappointing Vince Vaughn (Brawl in Cell Block 99).
Amongst the demon-bikers and acid-trip Cultists, Cage spends about sixty minutes not chugging vodka from the bottle, not quad-biking over psychedelic, Heavy-Metal Mars. He’s the anchor, the ‘Wise’ to the film’s ‘Morecambe’.
Talking to Sight and Sound magazine, Mandy director Panos Cosmatos said of Cage “He’s a very thoughtful actor, and he’s very careful about how he modulates these things. We had long conversations about the gradual path of his character.”
It’s only because Cage lands the job of audience-surrogate that we can later accept the fire-and-chainsaws crescendo. Likewise, I believe that it’s only because he’s so good at holding our hands through the increasingly bizarre set-up that the second half feels quite so hellish; “Did the tour guide just snort cocaine from the edge of a battleaxe?!?”
It’s not the first time Cage has done this. Without his stable core, the scenery-chomping of Con Air would have tail-spun into the Pacific moments after takeoff. Remove Cage’s chalk from Raising Arizona and you’re left with just the cheese- John Goodman yelling at mud. I’ve not seen National Treasure, but don’t think there are many bees in that one.
Mandy isn’t even the first time Cage has done both in one film. If you’re a self-important hipster-movie-buff and haven’t yet seen Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation then, first of all, hand in your badge and your gun. You’re fired from INTJ Squad.
Second, go watch Adaptation. And make a point of seeing Nicholas “Mom & Dad” Cage not only deftly navigate a Kaufman script, but also play twin bothers who might as well have been named “Nicholas-What-They-Think-I’m-Like-Cage” and “Nicholas-Probably-More-Like-This-If-You-Know-Me-Personally-Cage”.
For every Ghost Rider, there’s a Kick-Ass. For every World Trade Centre, a Leaving Las Vegas. I’d mention Face/Off, but I still can’t decide if I like that movie or want it to permanently fuck off. Certainly, I didn’t need to see Cage asking women to suck his tongue.
4. I Said In The Title There’d Be 4 Points So… Hello! Welcome To Point Number 4.
Anyway, the gist is; Nic Cage isn’t only the guy you get when you need crazy. Yeah, sure… he does go mental in Mandy. He does in most films. And yes, admittedly, it’s often what makes those films fun. But, as he has often done, Cage does more in Mandy than run around with a crossbow saying words. He shows his usual range- from layered subtlety, all the way up to oh-god-not-the-bees unsubtlety.
If we don’t agree on that, hopefully I’ve at least convinced you that he’s not a mongoose.
Mandy releases to UK cinemas October 12th 2018.