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Our award for most interesting TIFF press conference goes to Trespass. It featured writer/director Joel Schumacher and star Nicolas Cage, and there was plenty to chew on in their comments — not so much on Trespass itself, rather their more general observations on filmmaking and their respective careers. Cage looked casual in light blue shirt and dark blue sports jacket, while Schumacher’s long grey hair and necklace made him look more like an aged hippie than a veteran Hollywood writer/director (Batman Forever, A Time To Kill, Phone Booth).
Cage was alternately candid and protective in the press conference. He refused to answer a question about how much he is in contact with the Coppola family (his uncle is Francis Ford), but was very frank in discussing his name change from Coppola to Cage. “My passport says otherwise, but Nicolas Cage is who I really am. I had to reinvent myself to have the guts to stand here today. Nicolas Coppola was a scared little boy. When I got the part in Valley Girl at 17, they didn’t know my real name. That was a giant weight off my body.”
The premise of Trespass involves a violent home invasion. Surprisingly candid, Cage admitted his family was once the subject of an invasion. “We were living in Orange County, and a naked man in my leather jacket came into our bedroom. It was terrifying. I jumped up, yelled at him, and talked him out of the house. I didn’t press charges, and he was sent to a facility. We couldn’t stay in that house after that.”
Cage is renowned for being very analytical about acting. Here in Toronto, he dropped terms like Grand Guignol and cinéma vérité, and made comments like “Voice is one of the tools of acting. I’ll jump on a chance to play with it” and “I see acting as music. I’ll go for any new sound or counterpoint.”
On Cage’s veering between blockbusters and indie films: “They co-exist very well. There’s an opportunity to experiment on smaller movies, then use that. I ripped off Vampire’s Kiss when I did Face/Off. Indie films are like a laboratory. Plus I like to hopscotch between genres.”
His sometimes over-the-top acting style has its detractors, but we say Cage is still one of the brightest, most talented and coolest actors on the Hollywood A-list. And if you haven’t seen Bad Lieutenant 2: Port of Call New Orleans, well, please, get your life in order.
Schumacher was equally eloquent. When asked about a possible penchant for trapping actors in enclosed spaces (phone booth, house), he observed, “I like to put flawed people in a pressure cooker. Audiences like that kind of story, and here I had two great actors, Nick and Nic [Nicole Kidman] to work with.”
Un-Caged, we headed off to catch another quirky American actor, Woody Harrelson. Word is he delivers a tour-de-force in Rampart, so we were keen to check it out. Another alluring factor was that it’s based on a story by James Ellroy. The so-called “pit bull of crime fiction” is one of our fave writers.
Woody comes through (mostly), but Rampart disappoints overall. It’s set amidst the troubled L.A. police force, circa 1999, a time when the force was plagued by the titular corruption scandal. Woody plays a dirty, violent cop whose career, sanity and family are unravelling simultaneously. His performance is powerful and effective, but he’s let down by a hole-filled script and the occasional clunker of a line. Worst example: “I’m not a racist. I hate everybody equally.” We prefer to blame that one on director/writer Oren Moverman, whose overly busy camera style is another flaw.
In terms of the writing, Rampart can’t hold a candle to L.A. Confidential (also based on Ellroy’s writing) or even The Shield, the searing portrait of a rogue L.A. cop (played by Michael Chiklis) that was one of TV’s all-time finest series. Rampart boasts quite the star-studded cast, mind you: Sigourney Weaver, the gorgeous Robin Wright, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Ice Cube and Ned Beatty included. Forget talk of an Oscar nod for Harrelson, though. He might deserve it, but Rampart is too unrelentingly dark to enter that race.
Image courtesy of TIFF.