What better way to celebrate the 4th of July than with a little bit of Independence Day history, conspiracies, lost treasure, and our own national treasure, Nic Cage? In National Treasure, director Jon Turteltaub wraps all those elements like a hot dog, with an absurd heist story as the meat. Cage is in the midst of a career resurgence, with critical darling hits like Pig and the delightfully meta examination of his work, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. I must admit that I’ve enjoyed every stage of Cage’s unlikely rise to superstardom, so the cheesy action/adventure hero era, such as in The Rock and Con Air, is still a lot of fun for me.
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) is a history buff who sets out to steal the Declaration of Independence before his villainous former business partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean) can get his hands on it. That quest sets Gates, his comedic sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), and the strong-willed, romantic interest Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) off to various U.S. landmarks to decipher clues on a grand heist action-adventure in the mold of a modern-day Indiana Jones. They do all this in order to find the fabled treasure of the Freemasons, to which the Declaration holds a vital clue.
National Treasure feels bloated, with a runtime of two hours and eleven minutes. It’s super cheesy, with some hammy Cage acting, a cartoon-like villain in Bean, some bad puns, and an unbelievable, conspiracy-driven plot. Despite, and partly because of all of the above, it’s a fun, crowd-pleaser of a flick. I wish some of my fellow film critics could realize that going to the movies is about having a good time. Sure, the audience can learn new things and have an enlightening experience through masterful art, but not every movie always has to be that. This currently has a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes and a fresh score with the audience. Shoot off some fireworks and lighten the hell up, critics.
“…a history buff who sets out to steal the Declaration of Independence…”
My grandfather used to live for solving puzzles and looking for buried gold and treasure, always bringing his metal detector to the beach to see what coins or jewelry he could find. The movie appeals to me in part for that nostalgic reason. Still, I think that solving clues, finding valuable artifacts, and uncovering conspiracies is something that is innately fascinating to us as humans. Who wouldn’t want to discover some buried treasure? Plus, just look at how prevalent conspiracy theories are in our culture now. In that regard, screenwriters Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley, and Marianne Wibberley were ahead of their time.
Cage is the glue that holds it all together, with a determined obsession in everything he does here. He has said recently that the silent era style of acting influenced him, and you can tell. I admire that he isn’t afraid to act differently, which he’s been doing for his entire career, starting with the strange, high-pitched voice that he used in Peggy Sue Got Married.
Fire up the grill and enjoy a little Cage madness mashed together with some over-the-top Jerry Bruckheimer action in National Treasure!
"…enjoy a little Cage madness mashed together with some over-the-top Jerry Bruckheimer action..."