Nicolas Cage does not use the word “masterpiece” lightly. In fact, he tells us that he has never utilized that term before while describing one of his own films. Yet when he sat in a screening room with his manager to watch the first cut of Dream Scenario, a new startlingly original dark comedy he stars in, the actors was absolutely floored and called it a masterpiece on the spot. Also to his satisfaction, more folks are coming around to his point-of-view on this surrealist film from writer-director Kristoffer Borgli.
“The reason why I say it’s a masterpiece is because of its originality,” Cage explains. “I think Kristoffer did something here which is extremely unlike anything else that I’ve ever seen…. It coalesced in such a way where I felt it was a very pure expression [of the artist].”
It’s obviously a wonderful reaction for Cage, as is the reception it is receiving from the critics and audiences who have seen the film. Personally, we consider the thespian’s turn as Paul Matthews—a nebbish college professor who inexplicably starts appearing in the dreams of people around the world—to be one of the best performances in Cage’s career. However, not all critical reactions are the same, and while Cage is having a moment with Dream Scenario, there have been plenty of other times in his eclectic career where his films were perhaps not given their proper due.
And while chatting about his career with us, Cage confided in what he considers to be his two most underrated films…
“One is Joe, which David Gordon Green directed, and I thought [that] was a good example of that kind of 1970s performance style that we all got obsessed with back when we were watching pictures like Midnight Cowboy or Taxi Driver,” Cage says when asked which of his films might be his most underrated. In Joe, Cage plays the titular character: an ex-con and recluse who has carved out a quiet existence by getting paid to poison trees in rural Texas. Things do not stay quiet for long, though, after he meets and takes under his wing a troubled 15-year-old (Tye Sheridan) whose own troubled family history sucks Joe back into a world of crime and violence. Released in 2013, it’s a somber and more minimalist turn for Cage, and one which the actor thought evoked the New Hollywood of the 1970s.
“[Those movies] became the arbiter for that which is considered to be good,” Cage says. “I think, frankly, too many people have gotten obsessed with that 1970s naturalism style, but nonetheless I think that was it in full form in the movie Joe.”
In the 2008 film Bangkok Dangerous, Cage plays another man named Joe, although this one’s work is anything but quiet. A high-priced contract killer who operates on a freelance basis, this Joe picks his clients and his targets, and ostensibly maintains a moral code about who he believes needs to die. But things soon enter a gray area when the assassin finds himself entangled inside a web of political conspiracy and deceit in the Thai city of Bangkok.
Directed by the Pang Brothers, Bangkok Dangerous was a stylish remake of the Pangs’ 1999 film of the same name. However, it was also heavily re-edited for perceived U.S. sensibilities, a fact which Cage thinks caused its value to be ignored, especially by 2008 American critics. It also recently came to mind when the actor watched David Fincher’s latest film.
“I recently saw The Killer, which I thought was very well crafted,” Cage says, “but it was very nihilistic. It also made me think about a movie that I had made that was largely beaten up critically and didn’t really have any voice at all, and that was Bangkok Dangerous. And what I would say about Bangkok Dangerous is I’m playing a similar character [to Michael Fassbender’s protagonist in The Killer], but what I liked… is that there’s a lot of heart there within this nihilistic world of being an assassin. He falls in love and I liked these emotions that start to grow. ”
Cage seems to regret that the movie was cast aside by the press, with critics “marginalizing it because it was considered a B-level action flick.” But if fans are interested, Cage suggests tracking down the international version of the film.
“If you can, get the Asian cut and not the American cut,” Cage recommends. “I think there’s, perhaps, some enjoyment there to review.”
Those were the two movies that sprang to Cage’s mind when considering his most underrated pictures—he hesitates to name a definitive third, although he thinks Gore Verbinski’s 2005 film, The Weather Man, is quite overlooked. But what are your favorite hidden Nicolas Cage gems?
Dream Scenario is playing in theatrical wide release now. Check back soon for more of our conversation about that film.