The previous films we’ve looked at have been directed by relative unknowns. Raising Arizona was directed by softie amoral shysters the Coens albeit before they found international recognition with Fargo (1996). The plot follows the mad-cap exploits of a south-west couple (and we don’t mean Bristol!) who kidnap one quintuplet of five in order to fill their infertility hole. Will Cage’s performance be assimilated into an auteristic directorial style, or will his performance be idiosyncratically his own?
Cage was a young man of 23 when this film was released, and his persona hadn’t yet crystallised. While he plays the role with his customary dedication, he often seems to be acting against the inclinations of his body. That is to say, in later works Cage plays characters that are physically grounded but mentally ungrounded, here he plays a slouchy goofball with bad posture – a man who is not upstanding morally or physically. The character, H.I. McDunnough has a tattoo of the “Thrush Muffler” mascot on his arm, demonstrating his commitment to cartoon lunacy, or perhaps synonyms for Victorian prostitutes.
Not Woody Woodpecker, he is a thrush.
However, his is not the kind of spriggly pipe-cleaner movement we might associate with a Mickey Mouse or D. Duck figure with their boneless bodies and rubber necking faces. When Cage does out of control, he does it with deliberation, willing his body to fit a character which seems determined by the Coens’ writing and direction rather than his own inclinations. Cage himself seemed to feel this, saying in interview that “Joel and Ethan have a very strong vision and I’ve learned how difficult it is to accept another artist’s vision. They have an autocratic nature.” Cage does not adopt any “Cageisms” in the film, although there is a notably stylised piece of acting in the dozy way he keeps his eyes perpetually half-open through the film.
H.I. is another in a long line of ineffectual male Coens protagonists ruled by sure-minded women. He is as useless as a baby, and the Coens cleverly demonstrate this through use of a natty call-back shot! When H.I. has broken into the Arizona’s mansion, one of the toothsome toddlers crawls headways under a crib which we see in a ground level wide angled close up. He is then plucked up from behind by H.I. Later, when a tiny-voiced bounty hunter is trying to steal the life from H.I., Cage crawls under a car shown in a shot that directly mirrors the one of the baby escaping. As Cage did before, now it is he who is plucked up from behind.
Raising Arizona was released 20 years before the previously reviewed Ghostrider, and unexpectedly foreshadows the flaming motorcyclist in the bounty character played by Randall “Tex” Cobb. In a dream sequence, the haired and leathered biker is roaring down a desert track, leaving a treasure trail of fire in the sand behind. He then shoots a gecko, innocently sunning itself on a rock, in much the same way that Ghostrider will offhandedly incinerate a gecko 20 years later. We think this is evidence that Nicolas Cage films will reveal a strange internal logic if watched in the correct order, perhaps leading to a hidden pot of gold.
Not My Name is Earl, he is a Nicolas Cage