Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Nicolas Cage has developed one of the unique careers of any Hollywood megastar. With his wild hair, angular face and propensity for oddball onscreen antics he’s hardly a conventional matinee idol, yet he’s spent a remarkably prolific 27 years in the business.
Few actors work harder than the man born Nicholas Kim Coppola. Including his upcoming movies, IMDb counts 27 screen credits since 2000 alone. This productivity has its downside, however. Though Cage clearly, passionately adores his job, he also seems to suffer from a case of “Christopher Walken Syndrome,” in which that passion leads him to less than worthy projects.
All indicators pointed to Knowing as the heir to The Wicker Man, Next, Bangkok Dangerous and the other subpar motion pictures to which the actor has recently lent his credibility. So it comes as a surprise to note that the movie is actually pretty good, directed with flair and innovation by Alex Proyas. It raises some big philosophical questions about destiny and fate, none of which Cage deigned to weigh in on during his recent New York City press conference.
“At the risk of impinging on your own personal opinions, your own relationship to the movie, I would just offer that I’m not a chaos theorist,” Cage said when asked if he believed in a pre-determined future.
The star clearly has the press routine down to a science: never say anything that might upset some segment of the prospective audience. When asked if the story impacted him personally, the non-answers continued.
“Well, first of all, any opinion I give is not as important as your opinion. Your opinion is what matters to me,” he said. “Any awakenings that I may have had happened before I said yes to the movie. So I didn’t really learn anything or get anything from it, but I was just ready to express it.”
The outsized persona of the onscreen Cage, who so memorably consumed a live cockroach in Vampire’s Kiss and drank himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas, was nowhere to be found. There wasn’t even a hint of the man who named his youngest son Kal-El and a demonstrated proclivity for all things Elvis.
“Knowing is one of those movies where you’re going to get the spectacle and you’re going to have the entertainment in the grand science fiction tradition,” he said. “But also it will perhaps stimulate some discussion to help you sort out on your own where you might choose to go in terms of your own needs. Now I say that without preaching. It’s up to you what you get from the movie.”
However, he did periodically show his willingness to step away from such audience pleasing sentiments and speak with substance and insight. For example: his thoughts on his career path. Anyone closely following it would have to note the star’s recent turn away from the surreal strangeness that defined his early years and the hardcore action of his post-Oscar period. Twin preoccupations have taken their place: working within the fantasy genre and making movies with some social significance.
“[The audience is] going to go places that are a bit more of the imagination, a bit more out there and that’s more and more where I like to dance. [Also] I got a little tired of movies where I had to shoot people and I got to thinking about the power of film and what that power is,” Cage said. “The power is in fact that it really can change people’s minds. I had that experience with The China Syndrome. It made me aware. So I thought if it was this powerful, [If I have] the power to change people’s minds, then perhaps I should just be a little more responsible with that power.”
Still, the old Nic Cage, the actor who self-admittedly launched his career with “an almost punk rock need to express a lot of anger,” may not have been completely subsumed by this new family friendly, play it safe version. He recently completed production on Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, which, if it’s anything like the comic series on which it’s based, will rival his older work in its quantities of violence and strangeness. His other live-action effort slated for 2009, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, is a Werner Herzog directed reinterpretation of an NC-17 Abel Ferrara film. So there may be, after all, reason to hope that the man who played H.I. McDunnough and Sailor Ripley is in there somewhere.