For most of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which Nicolas Cage stars as a version of himself locked in a life-or-death struggle with a savage crime cartel, the references to his four decades of film work range from background gag to in-your-face.
Shout outs to Guarding Tess, The Rock, Con Air, Croods II, and the “underrated” Captain Corelli’s Mandolin abound.
But filmmaker Tom Gormican also slipped in a few covert references, allusions to past films meant to tantalize only the most astute of Cage aficionados. Spoiler Warning: Only read on if you’ve already seen the film.
This 1997 John Woo action shoot-’em-up gets a lot of attention in Unbearable Weight, including ranking as the No. 1 favorite movie of Pedro Pascal‘s suspected cartel kingpin. But there is also a low-key reference to the climax of that film in the new movie, making the plot even more meta than it already is.
“There sly one is when [Cage] grabs Paco León, who’s playing Lucas, the villain,” Gormican explains. “He’s behind him, with his arm around him and the gun to his head. That is a direct reference to Face/Off.”
In Woo’s movie, John Travolta is playing the Cage villain, while Cage plays the Travolta hero, trying to save his daughter from the madman. “When Lucas grabs the knife and stabs him in the leg and twists it as Nick goes down, that’s exactly what happens in Face/Off. So that’s a reference to that action scene. So he is kind of becoming the character.”
Leaving Las Vegas
This 1995 drama won Cage the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal as a self-destructive man who is trying to drink himself to death while forging a final relationship with an angelic prostitute (Elisabeth Shue.) A key scene in that film, in which his character plunges into a pool while still guzzling from a bottle, gets an homage in the beginning of Unbearable Weight.