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Let’s get this right out of the way. Nicholas Cage is a flat out madman and because of that, he is absolutely perfect in every way as a man clearly in need of professional help, convinced of a quest from God (played by Russell Brand) to go to Pakistan and capture Osama Bin Laden. Cage is the star, the heart, and the very reason to watch this absurdly satisfying comedy that can’t possibly keep up with its lead, and falls short because so, but is a mesmerizing experience just the same.
Gary Faulkner (Cage) is a man with issues. He can’t manage his money, his health is poor, and he’s a hyper-American loyalist with few people who take him seriously. He spends his time extolling the virtues of his homeland and he denounces those who can’t see the importance of his position as a purveyor of justice, freedom, God, and America. And nobody seems more frustrated by the military’s inability to hunt down the infamous international terrorist than he. So when God shows up to tell him he’s the one to do it, he takes it to task with a passion few could possibly understand.
One who does though is Marci (Wendi McLendon-Covey), an old friend from school he hasn’t seen in years whom he meets in a home-improvement store. She confesses to her crush on him back in the day and so they spend some time together, along with her handicapped daughter. This gives him some direction. Still though, he can’t shake God who persists in his demands, so Gary makes a few failed attempts to get to his target, including sailing to Pakistan which has him running aground in Mexico. When he finally does make it there, finding Bin Laden is not as easy as he hoped, and as weeks pass, he ends up strolling around the streets and markets with his samurai sword falling further into despair and the occasional hallucination. Just what is it going to take to get the prize? A hang-glider maybe?
Directed by Larry Charles, Army of One is based very loosely on the real story of Colorado construction worker Gary Faulkner, who undertook his own personal mission to find Bin Laden, but takes some liberties of course in presenting that story. Charles understands the passion it requires to do what he did, but also the humor it inspires. And so he unleashes Cage to capture that, taking the very real mannerisms of Faulkner and giving them a sharper edge. The film character is an explosive, unhinged wild man with no filters, who rants without provocation wherever he goes but somehow seems harmless, which is why he has the friends he does. Charles wisely lets Cage take him to the stratosphere where he belongs, and in so doing, makes him a lovable wreck from which we can’t possibly look away.
The problem then for Charles and the screenplay is giving that performance a place to move about, and unfortunately, Cage is left with small corners in which to work, as the story is exceedingly thin, a premise with all setup and no payoff. Faulkner has no real counter in the film, only the elusive Bin Laden, whom does make an appearance of sorts, but not like you’d expect and is the film’s weakest point. The saving grace is Marci, who utterly grounds the movie, thanks to a great performance from McLendon-Covey. She understands what drives Faulkner and while she savors his company when he is home, knows she would be the proverbial cage if she were to ask him for more.
For a long time now, Cage has become a sort of parody of himself (even here he makes fun of himself in a funny bit about casting Faulkner for a film within the film). His antics and dead-eyed factory-setting “Nicolas Cage” parts have left many wondering if there was any hope the actor would ever really return. To be sure, here he does. Now you might get two minutes into this and wonder what exactly is happening and why he is acting so, but five minutes later you will get it and you will be hooked. By the halfway point, as the character’s true personality emerges, the tenderness and vulnerability more obvious, we start too see the genius in what Cage is doing. From the voice and hands, to the eyes and beard, this is a committed performance that is one of his finest. It’s just too bad it’s trapped in a film that can’t truly make it work.
Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Rajiv Joseph, Scott Rothman
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Russell Brand, Denis O'Hare
Genre: Comedy, Satire