On the surface, Chicago weatherman David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) appears to have everything going for him: a six-figure salary for two hours work a day, a luxury apartment in the city, and on a shortlist for a meteorological job on a national morning show that would net him just under a million a year. Scratch beneath the veneer and the cheesy grin for the cameras, and we see David is a troubled man teetering on the edge. For all his professional successes, Spritz can't shake the notion he is a failure, a feeling backed up by his wreck of a personal life. He is faced with the ignominy of continually disappointing his terminal ill, Pulitzer Prize-winning father (Michael Caine), his marriage has failed, and he struggles to connect with his two children. It appears as though the public can see through the shallow façade of celebrity too. To them, Spritz is an object, to taunt and abuse on a whim. The Weather Man is a character study upon the nature of failure. It's unremittingly bleak, sombre and morbid, with no real signs of light at the end of the tunnel. It's also almost brilliant, an intellectual and original piece that breaks from so many of the conventional notions of Hollywood cinema that it makes you grateful that it ever got made. When watching this startling little film it's almost inconceivable to imagine that this is a mainstream American product, starring one of its biggest tickets, and directed by Pirates of the Caribbean's Gore Verbinski. I can imagine the faces of audience goers stateside, chowing down on their nachos and mega-gulps expecting a Nic Cage romantic comedy. What we have here is to all intents and purposes an art movie, which proves that not all mainstream cinema needs to be lobotomised for public consumption. The film centres itself on Spritz's relations around central areas in his life, and his failure to reconcile his inner desires with the hand life deals him. A combination of his own personal failures and life kicking him when he's down serve to thwart his every attempt to make a better person from himself. His problems stem from the fact he has always took the easy option. A weatherman, he doesn't hold a degree in meteorology, instead relying on advice, guesswork, and buzzwords to get through the day. The public don't respect him; to them he's just another disposable commodity to be abused and then forgotten about. Spritz longs to achieve something, to earn the respect and admiration of his father, and the love and trust of his ex-wife and two children. He tries his hardest, but the years of his life where he created this gulf in personal pride and respect weren't flukes. That is who he is and how he relates to others regardless of how much he tries to alter it. Verbinski's film shows, in harsh and unforgiving detail, a desperate man swimming against the tide of fate and design, attempting to remedy factors that he has no control over. If all this sounds unremittingly grim, then it couldn't be further from the truth. The film is a downer, no doubt. But it is also hilariously funny, with a wonderfully verbose script from Steve Conrad. Although there is little in common with style and execution here, the film recalls that perfect mix of pathos and black humour that Sam Mendes' American Beauty exhibited, or even Alexander Payne's About Schmidt. Although almost every scene ultimately leads to failure and pain, there is some wonderfully balanced humour along the way. Much of this is due to an inventive and engaging interior monologue that runs through the film, although there are some moments of quality cringe-worthy comedy, not least when Spritz has one last chance to make his father proud before his death when he prepares for an emotional speech to a hall of friends and family. What should be a triumphant and memorable send off from his son, ultimately results in a nonsensical comparison to a Bob Seger tune, and a prompt power cut. Despite the wonderful script, what really helps The Weather Man come into its own is a truly superb central performance by Nicolas Cage. Like Kevin Spacey and Jack Nicholson from the aforementioned films, a great deal of responsibility rests on Cage's ability to convey the character in just the right tone to make the film work, and he scores a bullseye here. Despite his stature as one of Hollywood's biggest names, Cage has never been one to shy away from risky and un-characteristic ventures and here is no different. Cage straddles the opposition of the film's comedy and drama elements with mastery, creating a character full of flaws, but ultimately human. It could well be one of his finest performances yet. If The Weather Man has a flaw which ultimately just stops it short of being the phenomenal achievement it potentially could have been, then it's down to the arc of the story. It has been criticised for not actually going anywhere, but as this is a character study that complaint doesn't really hold sway. What does however let the film down slightly is it's sub-plot concerning Spritz's relationship with his teenage son, which seems forced and unfocused, lacking the attention to detail which makes the rest of the movie so special. Its paedophilic counsellor storyline feels a touch misguided and its realisation is somewhat under-developed and ill-thought out. This minor criticism aside, The Weather Man is a superb film. It's an unconventional and brave film from a major studio, with a wonderful script and an absolutely fantastic central performance from Cage. It's unremittingly gloomy in nature, but also incredibly funny, touching, and well observed.
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