Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Deadfall (Christopher Coppola, 1993)

On top of being the perfect con, it was supposed to be his last con. But what if the perfect con turns out to be not-so perfect? Well, if that's the case, the chances that the not-so perfect con will be your last con are pretty slim. (You can say that again.) The chances that the not-so perfect con will be... (No, it's just an expression. You're not actually supposed to actually say it again. Anyway, how does one go about making the perfect con your last con as well?) I don't know, but not many films have the guts to contemplate such a common con-based conundrum. Then again, the electrifying Deadfall is not many films. A jet black film noir replete with actors, dialogue and sets filled with furniture (tables, chairs, lamps, etc.), this hard-boiled thriller about life on the wrong side of the tracks from writer-director Christopher Coppola will literally blow you away. Everything about a this film drips a gritty form of grittiness. If I didn't know going in that this was only a movie, I could have sworn I had been magically transported to a murky world where even the pretzel vendors are leading double lives. (You mean Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees isn't just peddling pretzels?) Are you kidding? Nothing again is ever as it seems once you enter the dark underbelly that is this two-fisted tale of love, sex, betrayal and Nicolas Cage. (Hey, wait a minute, since when has Nicolas Cage's name been applicable as a noun?) Um, since always. Have you seen a Nicolas Cage movie from the past thirty years? The Nicolas Cage movie is a genre unto itself. Now, this isn't the Nicolas Cage of Valley Girl or even Leaving Las Vegas, subdued strains of Nicolas  Cage, that, while entertaining in their own right, lack a certain bite to them. On the other hand, the Nicolas Cage that appears in this film is pure, uncut Nicolas Cage; in other words, it's pretty potent stuff, snort with caution.

(Aww, c'mon. You sound like one of them fedora-wearing smart asses who repeatedly make exaggerated claims about the power of Nicolas Cage--you know, like he's some kind of scenery chewing monster hell bent on destroying cinema as we know it.) While I'll admit, I'm a tad uncomfortable about the sarcastic tone I'm using at the moment. However, you have got to remember, I'm currently not talking about a leggy Sarah Trigger in black stockings in order to express my opinions regarding the human clusterfuck that is Nicolas Cage's performance in this movie, so, yeah, it's a big fucking deal.

(Hmm, Sarah Trigger. Why does that name sound so unfamiliar?) Oh, I don't know, maybe because this is your first Sarah Trigger experience. (Yeah, I think you're right. By the way, that was an interesting choice of words you used to describe the act of watching a Sarah Trigger movie for the very first time.) You mean, "experience"? It's very apt, as you simply don't just watch a Sarah Trigger film, you experience it. While Nicolas Cage and, to a lesser extent,  Charlie Sheen think they're walking away with this picture, it's actually Sarah Trigger who ends up dominating the proceedings.

I'll explain, in lurid detail, how she goes about doing this in a minute. But first, I'd like to introduce you Joe Donan (Michael Biehn), a con man who uses his All-American good looks to swindle pigeons out of their hard earned cash. When we meet him, he's in the middle of conducting a drug deal for a low level gangster (Michael Constantine) at a rundown warehouse. (I thought you said he was a con man?) He is. (No, he sounds more like a drug dealer.) Oh, I see. The drug deal is all part of an elaborate con. Or I should say, an elaborate con that blows up in his face when the gun that was supposed to contain blanks fires real bullets into the chest of Mike Donan (James Coburn), Joe's con man father.

Crestfallen over the fact that he killed his father, Joe is comforted by Pete (Peter Fonda), one of his father's henchmen. Just for the record, there's no real reason for Peter Fonda to be in this movie; he must have had bills to pay or owed someone a favour.

At the funeral, a mysterious redhead in black shows up to leave a single rose on Mike Donan's grave. I don't know who that is, but check out the slit on her skirt, it's so freakin' substantial, it hurts.

As a result of both movement and the environment, the slit flaps open every once and a while. And when it does, it reveals black nylon-adorned gams.

(Hey, pervert.) Who... me? (Yeah, you. Do you mind not going on and on about that lady's slit, Joe is trying to grieve over here.) But she's currently crouching. Are you aware how sexy that is? Crouching on a breezy day is a slit-lovers dream come true. (I don't care, Joe's father is dead.) Well, maybe he should have checked the gun to make sure it had blanks in it before he shot his father point blank in the chest.

I'm sorry, that was I uncalled for. (You see what you did. You made Joe take off for the west coast.) I said I was sorry. Hopping on a bus, Joe, with the help of his father's address book, decides to look up Lou Donan (James Coburn), the uncle he never knew he had. And just like his dad, his uncle is apparently a pretty big deal in the world of organized crime.

In order to get in touch with Lou, Joe must first find him. And he does this by hanging out at the local market. Would you look at that, Clarence Williams III (Link from The Mod Squad) is selling veggies, Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees is hawking pretzels, and Adrienne Stout-Coppola is offering cups of coffee in exchange for money.

Never mind them, wearing a pea green suit and a black Beatle wig, Eddie (Nicolas Cage) makes his presence felt in the Deadfall universe in an abrupt manner by instructing Joe to pick a card from the deck of cards he presents before him. Clearly not interested, Joe eventually gives in to his badgering, and picks a card. Even though he's only been onscreen for five seconds, Nicolas Cage has already performed two Elvis Presley-esque hand gestures.

After these hand gestures have been employed, Eddie takes Joe to see Lou, who, much to Joe's surprise, looks exactly like his dad; hence the reason James Coburn plays both parts. While Joe and Lou seem to be hitting it off, it's obvious that Eddie is none too pleased by the burgeoning nature of their chummy relationship. When Lou tells Eddie to take Joe clubbing (show him a good time), Eddie throws Lou a thumbs up. But there's a hint of anger and resentment in the way Eddie threw his thumb in an upwardly direction. This does not bode well for Joe, as Eddie doesn't look like the kind of person you want as an enemy.

Standing on the balcony of her suburban home, Diane (Sarah Trigger) saunters down the stairs with a refined elegance. Her sexy body sheathed in a slinky red dress, her legs lovingly poured into a pair of black nylons, Diane is a bombshell and the definition of trouble. In other words, she's perfect woman for Eddie. Though, I have to wonder, what kind of woman leaves the house without a purse? (Are you sure she wasn't carrying a small clutch?) No, I didn't see a clutch, either. (Well, that is strange.)

Anyway, a purse-less, and, apparently, clutch-less, too, Diana gets in Eddie's convertible, and the threesome hit the road for a night of, to quote Eddie, "fun-time family fun."

When they're finished grifting a bartender (Talia Shire) out of two hundred dollars with the old missing bracelet trick, Eddie, Diane and Joe visit a sleazy strip club. Oh, and before they do that, Joe and Eddie share a moment alone in Eddie's car. The use of neon in this scene was actually quite effective when it came to creating an air noirish cool.

You can tell Diane gunning for Joe's All-American cock, but you have to question her seduction skills. I mean, what kind of femme fatale shows up without nylons attached to her legs? According to the femme fatale handbook, you're supposed to be waiting for the man you want to seduce in his motel room (preferably sitting in the dark). Which you did. But you forgot to wear nylons. Big mistake. Miraculously, you were still able to entice your mark. But you were forced to drag out some sob story in order to lure Joe into your web of deceit.

(How do you know Diane's feelings for Joe aren't genuine?) Well, if look closely, you'll see Diane smile briefly the moment she gains Joe's confidence. (Maybe she was just happy.) Nah, her smile smacked of malicious intent.

Someone should check the record books, because I think Nicolas Cage's utterance of the word "fuck" during the film's second strip club scene might be the longest in film history. (What do you mean, "longest"?) An agitated Eddie yells the word "fuck" for a period of time that was longer than usual. (What's usual?) It shouldn't take longer than 0.5 seconds to say, "fuck," but Eddie takes close to five maybe six whole seconds to finish saying the word. (Fuck.)

I have to say, Diane regains her femme fatale cred when we see her lounging on her bed in a black slip and black heels whilst holding a stiff drink. She gets even more femme fatale cred when pulls a gun on a deranged Eddie moments later.

The contrast between performance given by Michael Biehn and the one unleashed by Nicolas Cage isn't even worth examining; Michael Biehn seems half asleep most of the time, and Nicolas Cage is basically acting like a coked up mental patient. (Is it Tuesday already?) Exactly. However, the contrast between the performance given by Charlie Sheen as ultra-suave pool shark Morgan "Fats" Gripp and Nicolas Cage is quite telling. Like his turn in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Charlie Sheen manages to steal the movie he's in with minimal effort. Even though I'm a tad uncomfortable saying this, but Charlie Sheen in Deadfall is a straight-up badass. It's a shame Charlie Sheen has become a bit of a reoccurring punchline as of late, because this Charlie Sheen, the one wearing the shiny blazer currently schooling Joe at billiards, is pretty great.

After being schooled at billiards, Joe begins to set the groundwork for his latest con. Only problem being, it bears a striking resemblance to his last con--you remember, the not-so perfect one where he accidentally killed his father. Involving selling a case of uncut diamonds to the claw-handed Dr. Lyme (Angus Scrimm), this con will definitely test Joe's commitment to the grifting lifestyle. When all is said and done, Joe will probably wonder why he didn't just get a job a the post office and settle down with Adrienne Stout-Coppola's coffee pusher. The moral of the story: Never trust leggy blondes. They're trouble with a capital 'T.' Roll credits.


  1. This looks like a cool movie! The Coppola brood and their kin seem to be in full effect, too.

    Nick Cage is a wackadoodle. I swear he has a personality disorder. My dad once described his acting style as "Looking like someone just stepped on his foot" and then made the accompanying facial gesture. I think this was after my mom dragged him to see the re-make of "Wings of Desire" when it came out in the theatre. Is he a terrible actor or just bonkers? He phones it in for the action/adventure pictures (seen against my will with friends, sadly.) He stinks up the joint in those. But once in a while its like your gazing into the abyss of actual mental illness. He's a fucking lunatic who will kill himself or someone else in front of their own mother by the end of the film. Polar opposite to "oh. someone stepped on my foot. ouch" guy, or "I'll just read my lines and do some action stuff, since I'm bankable." When Cage is on a role with that wild psychopath look in his eyes, you really think he's going to fucking kill someone on set. Wackadoodle.

    Anywho, Charlie Sheen was a great actor. Seriously, the guy had skill. Unfortunately, he decided to turn "Charlie Sheen" into a sleazy-ass tabloid and then lame sitcom character and play that instead. Don't think either he or Mr. Cage mind, since they made handsome livings for themselves either way.

    1. It's all Coppola, all the time.

      My mom thinks Charlie Sheen is hilarious.

  2. I'd bet that Jim Carrey probably saw this film before doing ACE VENTURA... Ace is pretty much a dead-on parody of Nic Cage's character.

    1. The attitude is pure Nic Cage. The Ace Ventura look however was lifted directly from Larry Zito on Miami Vice.