My notes on the Larry Charles-Nicolas Cage movie.
This feels like the comedy sub-plot that got cut out of Zero Dark Thirty, but it’s at least as close to the facts as Kathryn Bigelow’s film – even if it includes subjective fantasy sequences with Russell Brand as God – as it chronicles the bizarre, quirky crusade of Gary Faulkner, a Colorado handyman who believes he has a sacred mission to bring Osama bin Laden (‘Binny Boy’) to justice. It’s full of unbelievable stuff that turns out to be substantially true, with Gary trusting to his improvisational skills when sailing an open boat across the Pacific (he washes up in Mexico) or hang-gliding off a mountain in Israel (he breaks his leg) – and repeatedly getting funds and visas for international travel, arguing unsuccessfully to be allowed to carry his samurai sword on a flight (hey, Uma Thurman did in Kill Bill) but then carting it all around Islamabad as he seeks Osama with all the shambling fervour of Michael Moore on the trail of an exec who doesn’t want to give an interview.
Strangest streak of all is that Gary almost feels a kinship with his quarry (they’re both on dialysis) and for all his talk of America being the greatest country in the world imagines he gets on quite well with bin Laden (Amer Chadha-Patel) until a farcical swordfight in a low-ceilinged cave … this leads to the one moment of tragedy in a mostly-funny (and, from what I gather, slightly sanitised) account of reality show/tabloid eccentricity as Gary watches the news that bin Laden has been killed with his relieved girlfriend (Wendi McLendon-Covey, very good). She thinks for a moment that this means he’ll be able to ease into a normal life but his reverie is interrupted by God, prompting him to seize on the burial at sea to become an Osama truther who will now never end his quest – and, according to the end credits, will use the money from this movie to finance further pursuit.
With a grey beard and ponytail look, Nicolas Cage transforms himself physically for the role, and gives one of his committed, go-for-it performances, pattering free-association style in a strangled voice but conveying a kind of sweetness which explains why so many sensible folk at least put up with him and shying away from any deeper darks. With Matthew Modine as a doctor, Rainn Wilson and Denis O’Hare as CIA agents, Will Sasso and Paul Scheer as sidekicks and Chenoa Morison as Gary’s girlfriend’s niece/adopted daughter. Screenwriters Scott Rothma and Rajiv Joseph and director Larry Charles throw in some self-awareness as Gary wonders who’ll play him in the film as claims people say he looks a lot like Nic Cage in Con Air. The title is slightly misleading, in that it sounds like a 1980s Cannon film – a connection made in a jokey exchange about American Ninja, though anyone who knows Michael Dudikoff starred in that ought to have heard of the David Bradley/Mark Dacascos classic American Samurai.