Nicolas Cage in: Raising Arizona

Raising Arizona

Released in 1987 ▪ Review posted December 23, 2013

“…Because it was grassy and wanted wear.”

Robert Frost

My first impression of Raising Arizona was, “Jesus, this is a loud fucking movie.” I had only ever passively watched it in parts whenever it happened to be on Comedy Central. Watching it for Cage Match was my first full viewing, and honestly, it was not enjoyable. It’s crowded with characters, and aggressive in tone. The Coen brothers are known for using uncomfortable scenes to engage the audience, but in Raising Arizona, it’s relentless.

Plenty of other character-heavy Coen brothers films contain scenes dedicated to scenery chewing, but they are segregated from the rest of the movie. Raising Arizona, in contrast, is often a competition of character actors shouting their lines over each other. It’s like spending time in an airport or nursery, longing for a silence that never comes.

I was worried about this opinion until I found Roger Ebert’s review. He didn’t like it either, aptly noting that “the movie cannot decide if it exists in the real world of trailer parks and 7-Elevens and Pampers, or in a fantasy world of characters from another dimension.” That’s true, but as the review was written in 1987, it lacks the perspective of the Coens’ later works. After Raising Arizona, Joel and Ethan find a careful balance between the real and fantasy worlds that is both engaging and satisfying.

Despite this, Nicolas Cage is great. He is the only actor in the movie not stealing scenes, not weeping uncontrollably. He’s on the atypical side of his acting spectrum. He’s quiet and restrained. He’s found his mousy place in a bombastic world. Much like Ethan Hawke is to Training Day, Cage is to Raising Arizona: only around to make others look good. Or, it could be that Cage is actually “Classic Cage,” living in a world so gazoo that he only appears restrained. Real or perceived, his subtlety is refreshing.

From this film, we get two more gems. First, it helped start the career of director Barry Sonnenfeld, here just a cinematographer, who would go on to direct many popular, high-quality, hysterical films. He also he directed a miserable one. If you’re into origin stories, this one is pretty good.

Second, in my research for this review, I uncovered this lovely montage.

All in all, I have no desire to revisit Raising Arizona. Nic is passable, but there’s too much happening for him to be anything more than pleasant. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

How was the movie?
How was Nic Cage’s acting?
Restrained, good
Did his performance make the movie worse?
No. But it was bad