Cannes 2024 Review: THE SURFER Rides the Wave of Nicolas Cage Gonzo Midnight Flicks

The actor-producer undergoes another full meltdown in captivating Australia-set curio.

Contributing Writer
Cannes 2024 Review: THE SURFER Rides the Wave of Nicolas Cage Gonzo Midnight Flicks

Many Hollywood stars of his generation are banking on name recognition overseas and churning out direct-to-video actioners. Nicolas Cage has done his share of those, too, but he has also separately carved out a sui generis late career with gonzo midnight flicks.

He has let it be known in interviews that he's "in on the joke" of his memefied screen persona, and apparently Pedro Pascal (or his character in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent) isn't the only one who takes pleasure in watching Cage go berserk. It's his equivalent of winking at the camera; he doesn't disappoint.

In The Surfer, Cage plays a man (identified in the credits simply as The Surfer) driven to personal hell by his obsession with the surf beach and waterfront property of his youth. In the opening, he yanks his kid (Finn Little) out of school in the middle of the day and takes him for some surfing in Luna Bay, where a surprise is in store. The youngster does not share dad's enthusiasm and would rather be back in class.

Turns out that dad has made an offer on his grandfather's home and wants to show it to the son, only to discover he has already been outbid. That's not all. After changing into wetsuits, they are gatekept by menacing locals from accessing the public beach. But our hero is determined.

After dropping his son off, he inexplicably returns to the beach. He's obsessed with the surf gang that seemingly never leaves. They apparently even camp out there at night, away from their families. If closing on the house is such a lifelong quest for our protagonist, shouldn't he be at a place more conducive to accomplishing that goal instead of spending the night in the parking lot without a charger cord and draining his car battery? The screenplay by Thomas Martin has a lot of illogical plot holes that require the suspension of disbelief.

An old bum (Nic Cassim) living out of his car is likewise tormented by the beach gang who, he believes, is responsible for the death of his own son and disappearance of his dog. Over time, Cage's character loses his surfboard, phone, coat, shoes, socks, car and ring, yet he remains undeterred. He starts having heat-induced visions of himself as the old bum. And indeed, others treat him similarly when he approaches them for help.

Those who swindle him out of his possessions act like he's making false accusations when they are confronted, and after a while we are no longer so sure whether these tricksters are gaslighting him or he's simply delusional.

Though the film takes place mostly outdoors, there is a sense of no escape for our protagonist. It's beyond frustrating that he refuses to leave and repair to places where he would theoretically be better equipped to manage the situation. After his car is gone, he's effectively stuck.

A few viewers walked out of a screening at the Cannes Film Festival, seemingly frustrated by the protagonist's figuratively banging his head against the wall repeatedly. What this does for the film's visuals is make them unremarkable, unable to take full advantage of what should be scenic nature views.

The film does take an unexpected turn. While still in possession of his phone, the protagonist googles Scally (Julian McMahon), the apparent ringleader of the surf gang, and discovers that he is some kind of life coach. Though it doesn't seem like a big deal at first glance, The Surfer proceeds to hint at the prospect that the wringer our protagonist has been put through may very well be some kind of initiation hazing ritual.

Screenwriter Martin and director Lorcan Finnegan delicately maintain the film's ambiguities, keeping us in suspense regarding whether our narrator is indeed unreliable. They let us know in the end, though.

Cage is excellent as always playing someone spiraling out of control, though he has dialed that down quite a bit in some of his recent films so as to not go full Pacino. In one scene, his character is forced to drink from a pothole in the asphalt pavement and feed on raw eggs retrieved from a bird's nest. While there must have been some movie magic involved to ensure his safety, it's still impressive to witness this kind of commitment.

The Surfer is worth checking out, and not just for Cage's fans. In spite of the many logical fallacies, the film remains interesting and engaging throughout. It's definitely a solid addition to the canon.

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Cannes 2024Cannes Film FestivalLorcan FinneganNicolas Cage

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