Nicolas Cage in: National Treasure

National Treasure

Released in 2004 ▪ Review posted October 20, 2013

“The traditional single viewpoint has been abandoned! Perspective has been fractured!”

Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes)

I’m starting to think Nic Cage has only made a single eight-hour epic that’s just been edited into two-hour chunks 66 times. Everything is starting to blend together into one long wash of action, running, explosions, betrayal, redemption, and hairline. I’m starting to worry about my ability to judge quality. Saying Nic did a good job in a bad movie is starting to sound like an excuse.

But I don’t want to dwell. We have something much more appetizing in National Treasure. If I had to sum this movie up with a gif it would be the one where a guy eats cotton candy backwards, because I’m pretty sure that’s how this movie got made—with Jon Turteltaub disgorging perfectly good cotton candy.

Let’s take a moment to examine Mr. Turteltaub’s oeuvre. He is a man who has, with the notable exception of Cool Runnings, never actually directed a movie. Yes, he’s wrangled some contracted actors in front of a camera to read nonsense words and advertise things at the behest of a major studio, but he hasn’t actually made a film.

National Treasure was the first movie to come up in this project that I’d seen before, but it was an edited-for-TV version, and I was ironing shirts and slow-cooking chicken at the time. I was pleasantly surprised when the first actor to grace the screen was Christopher Plummer. He’s riveting, and the opening scene in the attic was no exception. It made me excited to find the national treasure, and it nicely set up the father/son rift for acts two and three. It was just great. And then you meet the off-putting Benjamin Franklin Gates.

Nic Cage does justice to the boorish, anti-feminist nerdball that is B. F. Gates. This character is such a basement kid, it’s really hard to want him or anyone he knows to find any treasure or, frankly, survive. His sidekick doesn’t do much better. They just aren’t characters you can get behind, which disconnects you from the movie. It stands in such stark, unappealing contrast to an adventure like Indiana Jones. You wish Alfred Molina would show up and demand an idol, which they do not have, in exchange for a whip that would save their lives, which they never receive.

Sure, it’s a good movie I suppose. The reveal of Harvey Keitel as Sadusky is excellent, as is the reveal of that guy from Zoolander. There’s action, there’s adventure, there are cryptic clues to an unfathomably enormous treasure. There’s Sean Bean at his very best. There are enough U.S. history things to fool a principal into believing it’s educational and taking a history class to go see it one afternoon. It’s rated PG for fuck’s sake. There’s nothing in this movie that won’t sell tickets. It’s the blueberry yogurt of films.

And Nic here is Nic. He goes whole-hog again. He’s ready to steal the Declaration of Independence for its own safety. He delivers his throwaway lines with enough smarminess to make Kevin Spacey cringe. Then again, consider what they’re giving him to work with.

Situations where Nic Cage was a good actor working with a bad screenplay have come up several times already in this project, and National Treasure is another example. This movie, as it was written and conceived, couldn’t be improved by substituting Nic with any better actor. Really! Take out Nic and put in George Clooney or Ben Affleck. Would that really have helped a nonsense adventure like this? I doubt it. So when people say Nicolas Cage’s acting is “bad,” what do they mean? I guess this is a new question. Yeah, he can be a little excessive, but so was Hank Azaria in The Birdcage and everyone thinks that’s brilliant. I mean cut the guy some slack, right?

National Treasure is a fun adventure, and as long as you don’t pay attention to the evidence of Hollywood’s ongoing total implosion shining through every moment of this film, it’s absolutely watchable. Nic Cage is too, for that matter. We’re starting to see some of the more subtle shades of Nic. The finer strokes. The dots that make the Seurat.

Nic can skew younger like this and get away with it. He’s kinda timeless that way. It helps that he totally embraces the Benjamin Franklin Gates character. As a comic collector in real life, Cage probably doesn’t find it too difficult to tap into the nerdy and factually authoritative side of himself.

It makes me feel like I’m betraying a universal common sense, but I’m beginning to see a greater truth take shape here. Though it’s frightening and burdensome, I must trudge forward. Nicolas Cage may be…a good actor.

How was the movie?
How was Nic Cage’s acting?
Did his performance make the movie worse?
Not really, no. I have no issues here