All someone need know about Mandy, a new film from director Panos Cosmatos, is that Red (Nicolas Cage), a lumberjack, was living very happily with his artist partner Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in a secluded woodland. When he came home from chopping trees, they would talk about her art, they would read, they would watch TV. Until Mandy happened to cross the path of a cult-leader, who, bewitched by her gaze, demands that she be brought to him. Shit, and some particularly nasty shit at that, ensues. Red survives and sets out to devastate those who came for Mandy.
Ham acting is not bad acting. We can take a kind of physical pleasure, a kind akin with that we derive from laughter, in the form of someone just going overboard in a performance. The best example, and it’s one that may be suggestive as to why Mandy is such an abject failure, is always Al Pacino. Movies in which Pacino overperforms become exciting precisely because his intonations, his asseverations, and his completely erratic swagger are always at odds with the rhythms established outwith those scenes. In Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), Pacino threatens to capsize whole portions of the movie, but the effects are so odd that they instead result in paroxysms of joy. Ham acting should throw things off balance in a pleasurable way.
Mandy, by contrast, is designed with Cage’s idiosyncrasies in mind, and whole movements play out with stultified, calculated, deeply cynical weirdness. Cage’s whole performance is a mistake. Cosmatos indulges in his moans, sudden yells, and off-kilter line readings in a such a way as to make just about every scene in Mandy feel like the height of banality. But how can this be the case? This is a film in which Cage screams while downing a bottle of vodka in his tighty-whities, gets into a chainsaw fight, snaps an antagonist’s neck, after which he proceeds to snort from a small hill of cocaine. How on earth does Cosmatos make all of this so boring?
Cosmatos does not, as someone like David Lynch does, harness the strangeness out of the material to match his directorial style. His long takes, which play out in misty shifting red and blue light, all scored to intermittent groans of guitar strings and fog-horn like blares, are utterly interminable. This reaches its zenith near the movie’s end, as Cage’s murders become increasingly inventive, any interest in events evacuates as quickly as blood does from an open wound.
A more generous appraisal would suggest that Riseborough’s performance elevates the material; that Cosmatos has commendable vision; that suggestions of intent in the text (it’s 1983, Reagan’s on the radio, a church’s construction plays a crucial part) are worth investigating. Well, sorry. The utter catatonia the movie induces in this viewer begs to differ. Mandy is a waste of light, time, Riseborough, and Cage.
Image: Genin via Flickr