It’s a shame about Nicolas Cage. Or at least, that’s what a more sympathetic review of one of his recent films will tend to say, before alluding to a connection between his decision to take a role in whichever load of old rubbish it is this time and his widely reported financial difficulties, and then making a joke about bees.
In popular culture terms, Cage is less of an actor these days than he is the owner of the face that launched a thousand memes. Looking at the worst of his output over the last ten years, you can kind of see why. The movie of Left Behind , evangelical Christianity’s version of a Tom Clancy novel. Two entirely separate, but equally bad, films in which Cage adopts a risible accent to play a medieval crusader who deserts because he’s sick of violence. And far too many cheapo sub- Taken thrillers in which he plays increasingly tired-looking men who have to do a lot of punching in order to save women: the nadir of these being The Wicker Man , in which the twist is that he has to punch the women instead. While dressed as a bear.
But take almost any era of Cage’s career and you can find some real dross: his earliest leading roles were in dull coming-of-age period dramas like The Boy In Blue , which ambitiously but delusionally aimed to do for nineteenth-century competitive rowing what Rocky did for boxing.
Okay, by the late Eighties he was finally getting decent comedy roles, as a good-hearted baby thief in early Coen Brothers classic Raising Arizona and a deranged would-be undead literary agent in the brilliantly weird Vampire’s Kiss. But you have to set those against dreadful Top Gun -but-with-helicopters effort Wings of the Apache , and the even worse than it sounds Judge Reinhold-starring erotic thriller Zandalee.
Cage really hit his stride in the mid-Nineties, when he figured out how to use his comedic talents in other genres. One of the many enjoyable things about The Rock is that he’s not playing against type: the character is meant to be as unlikely an action hero as the actor, whose biggest box office hit up to that point had been the Cher-based rom-com Moonstruck.
Although he had just won an Oscar for dying of gin in Elisabeth Shue’s lap. Leaving Las Vegas (1995), based on a semi-autobiographical novel about a suicidal alcoholic writer, is almost too bleak to recommend. Cage’s award-winning turn is about as far from comedy as you can get, but he uses the same skills to give us flashes of the funny, charming character that existed before the booze took its toll.
Clips of Cage on YouTube, taken out of context, obscure the nuance he is perfectly capable of. When he “loses his shit”, as per one popular compilation video, there’s a reason. A lot of the time he’s funny because he’s trying to be funny, outrageously over-the-top because he’s trying to be outrageously over-the-top.
Even when he does go too far, it gives bad films some entertainment value more often than it damages good films. The notable exception being Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), in which the then rather inexperienced Cage decided to spend the whole film doing an impression of a horse from a cartoon he’d liked as a child: leading lady Kathleen Turner was reportedly deeply unamused.
Yes, he has appeared in some bilge over the last decade. But that’s nothing new. And it’s not like he hasn’t also done good work, most notably as the shambling, bellowing agent of chaos at the heart of Werner Herzog’s bizarre masterpiece Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Just this year we got The Trust , a sort of “Coens-lite” comedy heist movie, in which he’s great as an earnest but odd cop turned con artist, who exponentially reveals himself to be even further off the deep end than initially suspected.
And the man’s a movie-making machine. This weekend alone he can be seen twice at the London Film Festival, in Oliver Stone’s Snowden , and Paul Schrader’s mafia drama Dog Eat Dog. He’ll also soon be appearing in decidedly cheap-looking World War II “epic” USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage , and Army of One , in which he plays a handyman who decides he must kill Osama Bin Laden. Because he’s been told to by God. Played by Russell Brand. Sure.
Regardless of whether the motivation for all this is the artistic challenge or financial necessity, if Cage continues to roll the dice this much, it seems statistically improbable that he won’t stumble into some kind of career upswing eventually.
One of the worst things Cage was ever in was a film called Deadfall. He staggers about in a bad hairpiece and false moustache, screaming his lines so incomprehensibly that it makes “NOT THE BEES!” look positively restrained, until someone sticks his head in a deep fat fryer.
Just two years later, he was holding an Oscar.
It’s not a shame about Nicolas Cage until it’s a shame about Nicolas Cage.
Ed Jefferson has watched every Nicolas Cage film. Follow his thoughts about each one here on Medium.
In Episode 2 of HBO’s Divorce , Thomas Haden Church’s cuckolded husband Robert visits his friend Nick in hospital. Nick has had a heart attack following a violent row with his wife Diane.
“Seems like it’s open season on men around here,” notes Robert, before adding that it must be “hell” for Nick to be lying there, “can’t speak, clucking hens all around you.”  In case Robert’s anger at womankind has not yet been made clear enough, he then tells his own wife’s friend to “get the fuck away from me you old harpy.” As far as Robert is concerned, women are the enemy.
One could say he has good reason to be mistrustful. He has just found out that his wife, Frances, has been having an affair with a granola-making academic. Having changed the locks on their home, he asks Frances whether she ever slept with both her lover and him on the same day: “Because officially that would mean you were gang banged.” He tells Frances that he is going to make her miserable: “And more to the point I’m going to make our children hate you.”
Divorce is written by Sharon Horgan and executive produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, who also plays Frances. It would be difficult – and unfair – to argue that this is a dramedy in which female perspectives on relationships have been sidelined. Even so there’s something about Robert’s embrace of misogyny, almost as a form of liberation following years of repression, I find deeply discomforting. It’s not unfamiliar territory in TV shows or films relating to the topic of separation, but still it leaves me, as a viewer, on edge.
I grew up with an awareness of late 20th-century films – Kramer versus Kramer , The War of the Roses , Mrs Doubtfire – in which the divorce of a heterosexual couple was presented as, at best, a war between two equally matched opponents, and at worst as the cruel victimisation of a hapless man by a vindictive woman. More recently my children watched 2006’s Night at the Museum , in which Ben Stiller plays the poor divorced man whose mean ex-wife can’t see that he’s doing his best for their son.
Whether it’s intentional or not, I can’t help getting the feeling that all too often stories of heterosexual divorce are being used to present a counter-narrative to feminism. In Divorceland there’s no such thing as structural oppression. On the contrary, perhaps men are finally showing themselves to be the real victims of the so-called gender wars while women have too many rights.   
In many ways this isn’t surprising. Marriage has traditionally been a means by which men appropriate female domestic and reproductive labour — divorce has become a means by which women can withdraw it (a recent US study showed almost 70 per cent of divorces are initiated by women). While studies suggest that marriage is more beneficial for men than for women, the reverse is true for divorce. Divorce and child custody laws have thus been the central political focus of the men’s rights movement. While women fight for basic bodily autonomy, men scale buildings dressed as Batman , railing against the injustice of women and children being treated as anything other than the spoils of their own personal battles.  
Feminism has meant that men’s assumed rights both within and after marriage have eroded. A couple’s children are no longer presumed to be the husband’s property and marital rape has been illegal in the UK since 1991 and throughout the US since 1993. Still, the assumptions of what marriage should mean for a straight man remain deeply ingrained. In her essay In Praise of the Threat: What Marriage Equality Really Mean s , Rebecca Solnit suggests that same-sex marriage will help straight women by transforming “a hierarchical relationship into an egalitarian one.” I am less convinced. I think it will take more than an awareness of the incoherence and illogicality of their demands to stop straight men subconsciously expecting submission from their wives and partners.
In Horgan’s script Frances is, ostensibly, the baddie due to her affair. Robert even makes this role reversal — and his own feminisation — explicit by telling her “you’re the villain here […] you’re Jesse James and I’m Sandra Bullock.” Perhaps there’s no means of capturing and conveying the gendered context of a relationship that has spanned many years. Does an affair erase a million daily assumptions regarding work, childcare and emotional caretaking? How much does the “henpecked” husband still benefit from his public status within a gender hierarchy? How much can a woman do before millennia of dehumanisation become an irrelevance?
At one point Frances and Robert try counselling. In the waiting room Frances encounters a woman with a black eye, with the suggestion that this is from her male partner. Is this a nod to the broader power imbalance between men and women? Or a reinforcement of the idea that Frances is self-indulgent and never realised how lucky she was to be with a man who did not hit her? 
Women are not natural victims. There is no reason why, in fiction as in life, they cannot be the person who does most harm within a relationship. Yet I wonder about the way in which our understanding of “fairness” feeds into assumptions of when and where it is acceptable to pretend social hierarchies no longer exist. Frances’s friend tells her Robert is “a monster”: “You need to destroy him before he destroys you.” This may be a darkly humorous comment on exaggerated emotions, but it’s one that pushes the viewer into a corner where sympathy for Frances starts to feel like a form of extremism. We need to tread more carefully than that. There is a real battle of the sexes, with real blood and real deaths. The stories we tell each other matter.

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