How Coppola Became Cage by Zach Schonfeld – Review

How Coppola Became Cage by Zach Schonfeld Review (1)

Nicolas Cage has been part of Hollywood’s bedrock for so long it’s hard to imagine life without him. From his earliest days in breakout movies like Alan Parker’s Birdy (1985) and Raising Arizona (1986) to his unlikely reinvention as an action star with 1996’s The Rock and 1997’s Con Air, he’s one of the most consistently entertaining thesps of his generation.

The fact he’s related to the Coppola film-making dynasty (most famously via his uncle Francis) and decided to distance himself from the name so he could be taken seriously on his own terms is the backbone of Zach Schonfeld’s meticulously researched book.

Zach has left no stone unturned in his quest to get under the skin of Cage, a little like the surgeon in John Woo’s 1997 masterpiece, Face/Off. And yet it was probably The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, that sublime 2022 meta action comedy, which did as good a job as any researcher. Cage was quite happy to send himself up, no doubt keen to deflate the idea of him being pretentious and a little up himself.

For years Cage has been something of an enigma, turning his OTT dial up to 11, especially on the rare occasions he’d appear on UK chats shows. His appearance on Wogan in 1990, when he plugged the glorious Wild at Heart, remains one of the greatest moments in chat show history. He somersaults! He strips off! Seriously, it’s a wonder nobody has turned the appearance into a one-off drama.

If you watch the making of Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men (2003), Cage remains rather distant and in the moment, either concentrating on his next scene or wondering what he’s having for dinner. And then there’s Mandy (2018), one of the  most trippy revenge horror comedy thrillers I’ve ever seen. The fact I’ve not been able to watch it again in the past few years is testament to how disturbing it was, not least because Cage gave one of his best performances.

How Coppola Became Cage by Zach Schonfeld Review (2)“Always delivers”

In a world where some actors are here today and gone tomorrow, it’s a delight to read about a man who has become synonymous with enduring, full-on performances, and that Zach Schonfeld became hooked on his work via 2004’s National Treasure. That fun, but arguably forgettable offering, was one of those adventures from his family friendly Disney years. Schonfeld, a history buff, was more fascinated by the facts behind the fiction, and of course Cage also got under his skin with an okay performance. It was perhaps more understandable that he became more interested in Nick’s work (yes, that is the correct spelling thanks to one of the handy footnotes) via Raising Arizona. The Coen Brothers’ masterful 1986 comedy features a gloriously bonkers turn from you know who, which is light years away from his affecting performance as twins in 2002’s Adaptation.

I can only imagine what Lord of the Rings would have been like if he had said yes to an alleged offer, or Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, the megabucks 1997 offering which was scrapped at the cost of millions. (Fans do get a chance to see what Cage’s Superman would have looked like thanks to a glorified cameo in last year’s The Flash movie).

As a sidenote, it’s a shame he was too old when he played Ghost Rider in a couple of movies; a decade earlier and they would have been quite something as Cage seems born to play comic book-inspired heroes, and even took his surname from Marvel favourite Luke Cage.

And as impossible as it was to fill the shoes of Edward Woodward in Neil LaBute’s savaged 2006 revamp of The Wicker Man, I do wonder if Cage played it for laughs with his much-imitated turn as the ill-fated crime-buster. The original was a B-movie, and this is literally a bee movie, so maybe he realised it would grow a cult following of its own in time.

It’s insane the amount of movies Cage has turned out over the years, and while I’ve never had the urge to watch Leaving Las Vegas again, his sole Oscar win, I’ll quite happily give Moonstruck, Face/Off, Raising Arizona and any new movie he decides to make a look, because Cage always delivers.

Kudos to Schonfeld for such a compelling work. Like Nick’s back catalogue, this is one to revisit time and again.

‘How Coppola Became Cage’ by Zach Schonfeld is published by Oxford University Press


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