This piece was originally published during the Sundance Film Festival.
Has Nicolas Cage reached his final form? If you subscribe to the Pokémon theory of evolution, he should have blown through his three phases long ago: First, there was his stint as an unusual young up-and-comer, then he became an Oscar-winning lead with his fair share of eccentricities, and finally, he plunged into “I’ll do anything” ignominy.
Mandy, which premiered this past week at the Sundance Film Festival, suggests that Cage has broached a fourth form: a mega-evolution, if you will. This Panos Cosmatos film rescues Cage from his paycheck gigs in direct-to-video releases but suggests that his willingness to do them is tied inextricably to the more respected actor that he used to be: that his award-winning past and IRS-indebted present are not two sides of the same coin but the same side, because Cage is always willing to push things way further than other actors, and that’s how you end up with a résumé that includes Vampire’s Kiss, Leaving Las Vegas, THE BEES, and a 2016 movie you didn’t even know about where Nicolas Cage accepts orders from God (Russell Brand) to hunt Osama bin Laden.
Anyway, these were the thoughts going through my mind as I watched a bloody Cage scream for two or three minutes straight during a scene in Mandy that will make for one of the absolute best clips on YouTube in about a year. Your own reaction to the scene may differ: The man in the tie-dye shirt next to me simply pumped his fists throughout, while the dude on the other side of him, upon the scene’s end, screamed an appreciative “CAGE!” into the darkness.
I’ll give you some context for the scene, but only a little. Mandy is an undulating, heavy-metal screensaver of a film that stars Cage and Andrea Riseborough as lovers who share a beautiful house in the mountains. Even though the sky is always lit like a forest fire is raging, their existence together is utopian until a band of weird, religious hippies decide to fuck it up and claim Riseborough for their own. Once they do, it’s up to Cage to take bloody, increasingly outrageous vengeance on all who have wronged him. He even takes time out to weld a battle ax. (No, that’s not a typo. He does wield it, but first, he welds it.)
Anyway, it all leads to the scene where Cage processes the abduction, recovers from his own injuries, then must psyche himself into taking revenge. It is all accomplished by screaming, and I should note that he is wearing a ringer tee and white undies and only those two things. In one long shot, we watch Cage pace around the bathroom, wailing and crying, taking swigs from a vodka bottle, pouring the vodka on his bloodiest sections, and ultimately hyperventilating. Cage has always been a great starter kit to introduce straight men to camp and he more than delivers here, offering a mad-dog performance that has everything you’d want from the downfall phase of his career but works precisely because there is a great actor underneath it all and because he does tap into something so ferocious that other people wouldn’t dare to touch. You’ll laugh, and you get the sense that Cage is in on the joke, too, but that he’d only laugh to keep from crying.
This is also a movie where Nicolas Cage slays a demon alien and then does a huge line of cocaine, but that almost seems redundant. Nicolas Cage doesn’t need to do cocaine to get lit. Cocaine ought to try Nicolas Cage.