The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – movie review

I’m just gonna say it – The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is the greatest Nicolas Cage movie ever. That might be because it’s basically every Nicolas Cage movie ever, but still… the greatest!

Writer-director Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten have created a film that celebrates everything that’s wonderful about Cage (at least his public persona). But they’ve done it in a way that also gently pokes fun at that same persona. And with the added bonus that it’s hilarious. This is like the Nic Cage equivalent of Being John Malkovich so it all gets terribly meta at times, but that just added to its charm for me.

The film parallels some events in Cage’s life. He’s had well-documented financial and tax troubles. So when the movie opens, the fictional Cage is in a similar predicament. He’s also separated from his wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and his relationship with his daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) is rocky. He badly needs a big role – and he’s in line for one. But when the director on the project (played by real-life director David Gordon Green) “goes in a different direction”, his prospects look bleak. But his agent Gordon Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) – subtle name choice there – has a back-up plan. Spanish billionaire and super-fan Javi Gutierrez (Pablo Pascal) is offering Cage $1 million to appear at his birthday party. With no other viable options, Cage accepts.

Unknown to Cage, the CIA have Javi under surveillance. They believe he might run an international criminal cartel; one thought to be involved in the kidnapping of the Catalan president’s daughter (Katrin Vankova). So when Cage arrives in Mallorca on Javi’s private jet, CIA agent Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) seizes the opportunity to make contact. Cage is soon employing his “massive talent” to get information for the CIA on Javi. But as the two men spend more time together, Cage finds himself warming to the seemingly naive and charming Javi. That only deepens when Javi proposes that the two collaborate on a movie.

Gormican and Etten cleverly weave some of Cage’s iconic roles into the script. Basically the idea is that he has to use the skills embodied in those characters to solve problems. So has has to channel his characters from everything from Con Air to Guarding Tess. Fans will have a field day trying to spot all the references (I know I missed a few). The movie drops other nuggets for cinema buffs, including several references to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and – surprisingly – Paddington 2.

The film positively romps along thanks to Gormican’s breezy direction and some slick editing from Melissa Bretherton. Mark Isham’s score is just about perfect and cinematographer Nigel Bluck gives a sunny sheen to the picturesque locations (the film was actually shot in Croatia, with locales around Dubrovnik standing in for Mallorca).

Of course, the primary reason to see this film is Nicolas Cage. He’s tremendous as, well, himself (and his younger self). For all his bluster, this is actually an incredibly intelligent performance from him, one that delivers both fan service, and a kind of vulnerability rarely seen in his other work. Pedro Pascal (Wonder Woman 1984) also gives a very clever performance as Javi, essentially providing a mirror image of Cage’s role. Sharon Horgan (Military Wives) and former child actor Lily Sheen lend solid supports. Tiffany Haddish (The Card Counter) is good but sadly under-utilised in the somewhat peripheral role of Vivian. And in a blast from the past, Demi Moore turns up in a cute cameo.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is probably one of the most slyly clever films you’ll see this year. And one of the funniest. The fact that the preview audience applauded at the end really says it all.

David Edwards


Other reviews you might enjoy: