Prisoners of the Ghostland: Nicolas Cage is back at it again and I love it.
You know, speaking for myself and many others, I love Nicolas Cage. He is an actor that, despite the lower quality movies that he sometimes stars in, does put his all into a film and makes even the worse of films a helluva lot more enjoyable to watch. He can take a film that is boring and then make entire scenes memorable through his delivery and acting. Yes, it can be considered over the top at times, but it helps cement his identity and acting style and differentiates it from other actors in the industry. It is also great that he is having a career rejuvenation with critically successful films such as 2017's Mom and Dad, 2018's Mandy, 2019's The Color out of Space, 2021's Willie's Wonderland and Pig. It is a return to form that many fans are more than pleased with.
2021's Prisoners of the Ghostland, directed by Sion Sono (Shinjuku Swan) and written by Aaron Hendry/Reza Sixo Safai, the film is a combines Nicolas Cage's over-the-top acting with a stylish and action filled story that enables him to go all out. This movie is many things; stylized, colorful, gonzo, action filled, bizarre and more.
The Story and Writing
The story would take place in Samurai Town, a settlement that combines the American west with traditional/modern Japan after the events of a nuclear disaster, whilst the outside is known as the 'Ghostland', an irradiated wasteland that is reminiscent of any post apocalyptic visage. Hero (Nicolas Cage), is a prisoner who after a botched bank robbery is tasked by The Governor (Bill Moseley) to rescue his 'granddaughter' Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from the Ghostland and it's cult like denizens within five days or else his suit will detonate, killing him with strategically placed explosive devices.
Now, from the plot description, the idea of a prisoner having to go on what can be considered a suicide mission while armed with life threatening explosives sounds a whole lot like the recent DC Suicide Squad movies, and while that is a similar story trait, the story of this movie is more or less, completely original. It is an original screen play that is not based on a pre-existing comic or story, which is somewhat impressive nowadays. While some of the details and world building can be lost on the viewer, seeing as the makers of the movie released a prequel comic to coincide with the film's release, it is still a story that is easy to follow and comprehend the character's motives. There are several themes in this movie that are interesting to discuss and debate in the film such as the influence of western imperialism, the perils of nuclear destruction and radiation, how people who were affected by disaster are left to their devices and so on, but this is not an analysis of the film, but just a review.
Though admittingly, one problem that I personally had in the film would be that it was somewhat difficult to make out what some of the characters, such as the rat people, were saying, so watching this with subtitles is recommended for some.
The characters in this movie are admittingly a mixed bag. Characters such as Yasujiro (Tak Sakaguchi) and Bernice are given less screen time and development thus coming off as surface level characters with Bernice being a young runaway and Yasujiro being the bodyguard with a change of heart. Though the actors who have the most presence in the film would be Nicolas Cage and Bill Moseley who bring their acting chops to the film and give performances that make the film a lot more enjoyable. With Bill Moseley being the womanizing dictator who rules with an iron fist to Nicolas Cage, well, being Nicolas Cage, they are enough to keep the audience's attention, especially when Cage goes into action mode.
With cinematography by Sôhei Tanikawa (Fly Me to Saitama), Sion Sono's movie is fully brought to life. With beautiful cinematic shots and quick cuts, the film is a marvel to look at by itself. Sono is known as an auteur when it comes to film and it shows. The built set designs, costuming, props and more help to give this film an identity where we can pick up on how some of the people in Samurai Town and The Ghostland live their lives in this post apocalyptic future. The mix of the western and asian culture in Samurai Town to the Mad Max-ian ruins in the Ghostland are distinctively different, creating a visually beautiful contrast between the two. We even see things such as the Dekotora Trucks (a subcultural group of truck drivers who fully customize their trucks in beautiful artwork), which in a western film is rare and cool to look at.
To be clear, this movie is not for everyone. Some people will find this movie to be a bit of a slog at times and might find the plot to be confusing at points. But Prisoners of the Ghostlands is still a fun and gorgeous film to watch, especially if you are a Nicolas Cage fan. With decent action, beautiful cinematography, gorgeous set designs and costumes, good acting from the leads, it is definitely worth a watch, at least once.