I’m pretty hard on Nicolas Cage. He’s one of those actors whose films I eventually had to avoid because of my visceral antipathy to the very idea of him and his supposed talent. Like Cruise or Travolta, Cage is more of a reactor than an actor – an ape who’s mastered the art of behaving spontaneously for the camera, but who possesses one note on a single continuum, which either mumbles or shouts depending on the role. So when Werner Herzog, one of my favorite working directors, cast Cage in a new film, I died a little inside, knowing I’d be compelled to cringe my way through it. But I should have trusted Herzog. He may not be putting out as many masterpieces as he once did (2004’s The White Diamond seemed, until now, to have punctuated his best work), but Los Angeles living hasn’t sucked away his essence, after all, and he’s retained those lunatic-whisperer faculties which helped him wrangle Klaus Kinski and Bruno S. with such satisfying results. He knows how to cast peculiar men in outlandish parts. I don’t think Cage delivers an ingenious performance – I don’t think he stretches his abilities in the least, ad-libbing or no – but damned if he doesn’t fit beautifully into the whole; not since the Coens exalted his single note in Raising Arizona has Cage been so indispensable to a role or so damned watchable.