Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 9, 2022

Nicholas Cage is back — not that he went anywhere

By VAREN TALWAR | May 3, 2022

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NICOLAS GENIN/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Poking fun at himself, Nicholas Cage mostly delivers on The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

Few actors have entertained, confused and bewildered audiences over the years more than Nicholas Cage has, and his unique ability is aptly celebrated in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. His character may not be the most accurate reflection of the actor’s real personality, but Cage gives the audience what it wants by playing the role with the hilarious intrigue of his cult status. All in all, the only problem with Massive Talent was that it wasn’t wild enough!

The fictional Cage in the movie faces troubles grappling with his dying career as he is unable to get the roles he is interested in, is on the brink of financial ruin and has a daughter he pushed away with his overbearing interest in cinema.

An eviction and a rejection prove to be the last straws, and he accepts an offer to attend a birthday party in Mallorca, Spain for one million dollars, his last ‘gig’ before retirement. The birthday party is for Javi (Pedro Pascal), the head of a lucrative olive oil business. Secretly, however, he is one of the most dangerous crime lords in the world — and overtly the biggest fan of Cage in the world.

A reluctant and withdrawn Cage hits it off with Javi, who matches Cage’s intense obsession with movies. But Cage soon finds himself torn when the Central Intelligence Agency asks him to investigate Javi. Thus unfolds an interesting story of this friendship, which becomes a professional partnership as the two begin working on a film that will be a serious drama about their own relationship. Massive Talent takes a very self-aware tone as it devolves, like Cage and Javi’s project, into a blockbuster with guns and kidnappings.

It's a simple plot, but the main attraction is Cage, of course. The film revolves around his legend and persona, which makes it a very fulfilling experience for die-hard fans of the actor. Frequent references to Cage classics like Con Air and Face-Off keep us laughing and nostalgic, and it’s very comforting to see supporting characters on-screen react to Cage’s charisma just like we do!

However, even if you aren’t familiar with Cage’s filmography and style, you are sure to enjoy the movie — it stands firmly on its own as a light-hearted character study. His character has deep regrets and the conflict between his narcissism and an industry that seems to be forgetting him creates an effective rock-bottom situation for the character, which Director Tom Gormican shows with great style. In one instance, Cage chugs alcohol underwater as the unbearable weight of his massive talent anchors him to the swimming pool floor.

Apart from the emotional depth of the film, it is also a fun ride. Its innate hilarity is only exacerbated by Cage’s trademark unpredictability as an actor. One moment he talks about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in the most academic and erudite way possible, and the next he sobs to Paddington 2. The LSD sequence is especially memorable as it lets Cage go wilder with his performance and adds hilarious melodrama.

The highlights of the film for me were the scenes between Cage and his imaginary younger avatar, perennially donned in a Ghost Rider leather jacket. Serving as a personification of Cage’s narcissism and an adolescent zeal for stardom, the young Cage adds depth to the character and is immensely entertaining! I think the scene between the two in the bar when the young Cage shouts “I’m Nic-fricking-Cage!” will especially prove to be a lasting scene for fans of Cage and the movie.

Although the film puts Cage on the pedestal we wish to see him on, he is still restrained by a screenplay that underestimates our expectations. As is the fault of many such movies, Massive Talent teases immensely entertaining situations, such as Cage posing as an Italian mafia boss, but doesn’t fully follow through, instead giving them limited time and complexity.

Nevertheless, the film makes the right choice to keep Cage in the spotlight throughout and gives the audience what it came to see. Although the supporting cast does a fabulous job, with Pascal proving to be a worthy counterpart to Cage, there is an appropriate silent agreement that it is Cage’s movie. As the audience, we wouldn’t have it any other way!

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is, at heart, a celebration of a true cultural and acting icon. It has the sophistication and depth that is rarely seen in other projects like this, which tend to be lazy cash grabs. As a Cage fan, I was very excited about this movie and although it didn’t deliver to my unreasonably high expectations, it was an extremely enjoyable experience that I’m sure everyone can appreciate.

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