There is one major issue with Con Air: Nicolas Cage’s accent. Once you get past that hurdle (and it is a big hurdle) what you are left with is a fantastic action movie that demonstrates everything that is missing from modern action movies today. It has a cool concept, amazing characters, incredible actors and R-Rated, bloody, sweary violence that you only seem to get in 90s action movies.
The opening sets the tone perfectly. The film wastes no time in placing Cage behind bars and you feel for the wronged hero immediately, wishing he had just got in the car or kept a cooler head. The passing time is effective as well, slowly watching Cage grow his long, luscious locks which will become as synonymous with his character of Cameron Poe as much as his southern drawl.
Cage is great in this movie too. He gets everything you would want from being the hero in an action movie: Slow-mo running in a dirty white vest, great lines, delivered as he dispatches bad guys and some genuinely touching moments, with the great choice of “How Do I Live” by Trisha Yearwood to bookend the film.
Action movies are only as good as their villains though and Con Air has tons of brilliant ones. Ving Rhames is Diamond Dog, Nick Chinland is Billy Bedlam and Danny Trejo is Johnny 23. They are all overshadowed by the main bad guy, John Malkovich as Sirus the Virus. From the moment he arrives on-screen to his final scene, he owns the movie. You can see how much fun he is having playing the villain, with excellent dialogue, funny moments and then bursts of sudden violence which make him so nasty but great to watch.
It isn’t just the dialogue which is well written, featuring some great quips, one-liners and cool phrases, but the whole concept is engaging. The idea of a prison plane controlled by criminals is one that has a lot to offer and director Simon West delivers it all. Crash landings, explosions and shoot-outs, as well as the tense moments, where Cage’s Poe realises how perilous the situation he finds himself in really is.
It isn’t just Cage which gets to play action hero. Supporting the hero on the ground is John Cusack, who finds himself in the crossfire too. It is another example of great casting, taking advantage of the actors skills to play the every-man very well. The very first scene between Cusack and Cage, face-to-face, demonstrates what makes Cusack such a great actor, as he nervously attempts to face-off with Cage’s vested hero.
The greatest piece of casting goes to Steve Buscemi. From the moment he appears, a creepier Hannibal Lecter, to his final scenes, his story and character is the movie highlight. He gets to be hilarious and dark in equal measure and you can’t imagine anyone better than Buscemi to balance the intelligence and calm demeanour with the unhinged horror of Garland Greene.
It isn’t a perfect movie. The finale feels forced and the last action sequence is almost bolted-on the end unnecessarily. It is still a cool moment but doesn’t add what it seems to be trying to, which is a huge, explosive ending. You soon forget this when “How Do I Live” starts again and I defy anyone to keep a dry eye when Cage stands opposite both Landry Allbright and Monica Potter.
Overall, Con Air is everything that makes 90s action movies great. A cool and heroic action star, an unhinged villain, some cool one-liners and great dialogue, added to explosive action sequences. It is a great concept and both Cage and Malkovich have rarely been better. If only they made movies like this today.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)