Despite having shown genuine acting ability, and a genuine flair for quirky and peculiar characters, actor Nicolas Cage continues to make atrocious career choices. He recently crafted a wonderful performance as the corrupt New Orleans detective Terence McDonagh in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009). It came as a surprise to most because it reminded audiences that Cage did once possess something special. But films such as Raising Arizona (1987), Wild at Heart (1990) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) are consigned to history. Only of use to Cage fans and film scholars. The latter always willing to drift into the mists of time for something interesting. For a certain generation Nicolas Cage is represented by films like National Treasure (2004), Next (2007) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010). He is a man that will seemingly agree to appear in anything. This tends to be something actors do when their star has burned out. Cage can certainly afford to be selective, and is obviously cine-literate enough to know that one doesn’t pass up the chance to work with Werner Herzog. This only makes his decision to appear in something like Season of the Witch all the more perplexing. It is made worse by the fact that Cage is hopelessly miscast. I can’t think of a more inappropriate person to play a 14th century knight rallying against the hypocrisies of the Church.
If the presence of one over-acting egomaniac isn’t enough, we also have the support of Ron Perlman. Perlman is however far more watchable and enjoyable in this film and brings to the table a sardonic performance which suggests he isn’t taking the film particularly seriously. But disastrously for Season of the Witch everyone else does. The best sequence opens the film; a moodily lit execution of three supposed witches which sets up both the reality of the phenomenon and the hypocrisy of the church. What follows this is a montage of battle sequences that totally undoes the dark and pervasive atmosphere of the prologue. We are transported to the Holy Land where Behman (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) eagerly slaughter hundreds in the name of Christianity. They are so at ease with this wholesale destruction that they even find time to banter and make jokes during the chaos of battle! This montage shows us half a dozen conflicts over the best part of a decade and it stretches credulity somewhat when Behman rejects fighting in the name of the church when he accidentally kills a woman. Are we to believe that in all this time Behman had never unwittingly killed an innocent victim? The point is that Behman challenges the legitimacy of the Church as an institution, an act which makes him and Felson outlaws destined for a life of wandering and subterfuge.
© Shaun Anderson 2011