Nicolas Cage Birthday Celebration: Dying of the Light

2014 Nicolas Cage movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A CIA agent with a jacked-up ear spends the waning moments of both his life and his career searching for the terrorist who jacked up said ear. When forced into retirement, he takes a page from Sarah Palin's book and goes rogue. He goes rogue!

A doctor tells Nicolas Cage's character that he "will be subject to overreactions or inappropriate reactions." In other words, this is the perfect role for Nicolas Cage! Mood swings, unreliable sensory perception, general wackiness. I was going to watch a different Nicolas Cage movie on his birthday, but when I noticed he was playing an unbalanced CIA agent in this one, I didn't feel like I had a choice. Cage, as always, didn't let me down.

Actually, before I continue, I should note that writer/director Paul Schrader (who made the very good Bringing Out the Dead with Cage and wrote Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) didn't even want me to watch this. His vision was apparently compromised as the studio didn't like his 15-hour cut and butchered the thing to present this hour-and-a-half version that doesn't end up making a whole lot of sense.

Back to our birthday boy. This isn't one of his better performances, but it's got enough Cage-iness to be worthwhile for anybody who loves the guy as much as I do. After all, he is playing a character with a mental illness. It starts with a nice "Fuck!", the sort of "Fuck!" that only Cage can deliver, before a scene where he's giving a speech for some new CIA recruits, one where he references watching porn and asks, "What in the name of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross are you doing here?" There's so much angry in that speech that this is probably worth watching just for that. He gives the gift that never disappoints--that patented Nic Cage freakout--more than a few times in this one. There's a great scene where he's told he can't smoke at a restaurant, yells "Jesus!" and then blames the whole thing on jet lag, something that also could explain his entire performance. No way any other character would really take the guy seriously after that scene. His character gets to throw a temper tantrum in his office before he's escorted out, hurling things around and yelling "Core values!" like it's a line he forgot to say during another part of the movie or something. The line "You got your head so far up Obama's ass, you can't see anything but his shit now. Shame on you!" is inspired, and you have to love the way he sneers the bad guy's name. Banir.

You have to love how clumsily this approaches mental illness. The mood swings in this are so jarring. There's a scene where he randomly smells a plant in a hotel, and co-star Anton Yelchin seems so confused by it that you figure it had to be ill-advised improvisation. Apparently, an agape mouth is our visual clue that Cage's character is losing it because that's his go-to move here. Both the writing and the performance tag-team to offend sufferers of brain degenerative diseases or their loved ones.

Cage gets a mirror scene, one where he's checking out his fucked-up ear, and at one point in the film, he's got a goatee and a Romanian accent which is about as perfect as you'd imagine. But the greatest thing about this movie and Cage's performance is this:

That hat nearly steals the show. There's no way to know for sure until Schrader's director's cut is released, but there just has to be a scene that shows Cage's character purchasing the hat. Hell, I wouldn't mind an entirely new movie for this hat's origin story. It could be called Nicolas Cage's Hat in Dying of the Light. That's one I'd see in a theater, 3-D if available.

What else is there to say? The music really stunk in this, there was a shaky-cam chase scene that would have been the worst thing about this movie if it wasn't for a poorly-filmed shoot-out scene with really crappy effects later on, and the film's climax includes a lengthy conversation that didn't make much sense to me and has the most anticlimactic fight scene you'll ever likely see. Of course, it ends with one of the greatest sound effects ever and an awesome one-liner, and that almost makes up for everything.

Is it bad that I'm not enough of a literary scholar or music scholar to know whether the title of this movie is a Dylan Thomas reference or a line from that song where they sing "Wrapped up like a douche"?

Oh, a little product placement: Ruby Tuesdays is apparently the preferred dining establishment of crazy CIA guys. There's this great bit of dialogue about the restaurant:

Yelchin's character: Evan, where are you?
Cage: Diamond Tuesdays.
Yelchin: You're at Ruby Tuesdays?
Cage: Yes, I'm at Ruby Tuesdays. That's what I just said.

You know, because he's got a disease, and Schrader wanted to make sure we knew that.

Apologies to Nic Cage aficionados (Nicophiles) for not getting this published on his actual birthday.

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