It’s Shakespeare meets Death Metal after Nicolas Cage’s girlfriend gets taken, but getting to the longest ever opening title after an hour in is a tough recommendation to give. It’s a late night streaming oddity that definitely isn’t my taste but I appreciate the unique visual style, even if the 80’s throwback tone is tiring, it’s at least memorable.
Mandy Bloom played by the underrated Andrea Riseborough, gives a performance full of hypnotic stares in a role that otherwise offers not a whole lot not. One memorable image super imposes the title character and villain’s faces onto one another which appear brilliantly almost indistinguishable. Another image in particular sees her two different colored eyes stare directly into the camera opposite as Cage’s character Red Miller looks at her through a campfire while she emerges through dark water. If you were to dream up the perfect delivery system for an unhinged Cage, Canadian director Panos Cosmatos, son of Tombstone & First Blood Part II director George Cosmatos has brought the gonzo style.
When Cage is not on-screen, which is less often than some viewers might hope, the film greatly tests viewer’s patience. This is the kind of film where one person speaks and it takes up to 10 seconds for another character to respond. I even counted up to one minute of silence during a meeting between the Christian cult bad guys and the demon metal henchmen, it was straining. This is the kind of abstract creative film I hated being a part of making in film school because it’s not the kind of movie I usually enjoy watching. I am aware how important these abstractions are inspiring the mainstream though. (Oddly the film includes the same Mexican song featured in one of my own film school videos.) The film did receive a rapturous response out of Sundance and has a current 81 on Metacritic, with its highbrow pretensions and low-brow Nicolas Cage. Or is that the other way around?
The homework required for viewing Mandy; long drawn out scenes featuring annoying and ugly bad guys given more screen time than they need are minimized after Red enters his brightly yellow wall-papered bathroom, and finally the Cage is unleashed. All the grief and suffering the character has endured for the last hour is finally let out (like the tiger featured on film) and paid off with scene after scene of cathartic violence that consistently entertains at a high level for at least a solid twenty minutes, and if you are less demanding, the rest of the film.
Like it or hate it, Mandy is at least a memorable piece and its good to see Oscar winner Cage continuing to do memorable work, along with composer Jóhann Jóhannsson in his last completed work. I had no problem watching Cage on-screen in any scene he was in and there aren’t enough of those actors that can enigmatically hold the scene no matter what. At Sundance, Cosmatos discussed how Cage was originally sought for the villain role but wanted to play Red. Too bad a dual performance couldn’t have been worked out because I didn’t like Linus Roach mirroring Kill Bill’s David Carradine as the villain Jeremiah Sand.
As is usual for acclaimed cult festival filmmakers, I’d like to see how Cosmatos would fare similar to his father in a more restricted mainstream big budget Hollywood setting that would force him to refine his filmmaking style and tell deeper (with a wider range of tools) telling more digestible stories. Examples of successful art-house mainstream transitions would be Skyfall, The Revenant, Guardians of the Galaxy and Gravity. For now at least we have a decent stage for Nicolas to Cage.
- This is Cosmatos’ second feature after 2010’s Beyond the Black Rainbow which was financed in part by DVD residuals of Tombstone for which he was a second-unit camera operator