When did it become universal that a small motel located off the highway in a little desert town would be home to dark secrets and seedy behavior? I understand why this is the case. I once stayed at a motel in Amarillo, Texas — shout-outs to Art Bell — that had a rate of $15.00 per night. So yeah, I get, but I am curious as to when this became to be? Maybe it’s just always been because that’s what happens when you start a business in the middle of nowhere and charge next to nothing. Whatever the case may be, isolated desert motels that serve as a hotbed for nefarious activity have been a staple of film and television for decades. With the release of Tim Hunter’s Looking Glass you can now add the Motorway Motel to the list.
Nicolas Cage and Robin Tunney star as a married couple that recently suffered a terrible tragedy when their young daughter fell off a balcony and died. While it wouldn’t be fair to place the blame on either parent, they both did play a role in this unfortunate accident. In an effort to get a fresh start and move on with their lives they decide to purchase a motel off an ad they see on Craigslist. Neither has any experience running a motel, but their hope is that moving to a small town and trying something new will allow them to clear their heads.
As soon as they arrive at the motel something seems off. The former owner simply leaves the keys under the doormat outside the front office and disconnects his number. Across the way from the motel is a mechanics shop and a convenience store and the employees working there just stare at Cage and Tunney. The vibes are unsettling to say the least, but the couple forges on, preparing for the grand re-opening.
While attempting to clean the pool Cage enters the motel storage room for the first time. There he comes across a crawlspace that is slightly boarded up. Curious, he opens up the space and enters to discover something quite shocking — the mirrors in each hotel room are actually two-way mirrors. This sets off a series of events and a mystery begins to unravel.
I can say with great certainty that Looking Glass is Cage’s best film since Joe and I would maybe even go as far as to say it’s his best work since Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. This neo-noir keeps you glued to the screen and guessing at every turn. It’s paced wonderfully, giving you just enough information here and there to make you think you have it all figured out before slightly drifting you in a new direction.
The film’s conclusion does leave many questions left unanswered. The main points of the story wrap up, but not all the details gets a resolution. That could be a problem for some, but it was done by design and to fit the genre.
“Clearly there is an unresolved psychological need within this guy and that’s what the sex, murder, mystery, voyeurism story plays to,” director Tim Hunter told me over the phone earlier this week. “There’s a comic aspect to it, a darkly comic aspect to it, and as in a lot of my favorite film noirs and B-pictures, although most of the surface details are resolved – the murder mystery, the question whether they survive the story – the underlying, dark psychological issues are still there at the end of the picture. For me it’s a small neo-noir that brings up a lot of interesting questions about male psychology, relationships and the issues with voyeurism and murder.”
The noir aspects Hunter points to are very much apparent. The film lands on every key element that one would expect from film noir. Cage plays an everyman that gets in way over his head. Along the way he meets a blonde skirt that further complicates the situation. Tying it all together is the gorgeous look of the film. There is plenty of harsh lighting with characters peeking through the shadows, beautiful and garish neon lights and lots of peering through venetian blinds.
The film also boasts a knockout, synth-heavy score from Mark Adler and Kristin Gundred. If the soundtrack was given a vinyl release I would snatch it up in a heartbeat.
For Cage’s part he plays the role similar to many of the icons that made their mark in film noirs during the golden age of Hollywood. He’s not this wild and in-your-face Cage that most people have come to expect. He has his big moments for sure, but they come in shorts bursts. There is one scene in particular where Cage is opposite Marc Blucas that is absolutely brilliant. Blucas plays the town sheriff and he’s questioning Cage about a murder. You can sense Cage’s palms beginning to sweat and you can see the fear gripping his face. He’s completely out of his element and unsure of how to respond. It’s a top-notch bit of acting and a reminder as to why Cage became the force on screen that he is.
“Nic gives a much quieter, more restrained, nuanced performance in this kind of noir murder mystery than he has in Mom and Dad and Mandy and pictures where he’s kind of had to go balls out,” Hunter told me during our conversation. “I think that’s not a bad way to approach this picture because it’s a big, quiet performance in which there’s really just a lot of delicious stuff.”
Lots of delicious stuff indeed.
Looking Glass will be available on VOD and in select theaters starting February 16, 2018 courtesy of Momentum Pictures.
More from Tim Hunter on Nic Cage…
During my interview with Tim Hunter he gave a lot of great tidbits on the project and working with Cage. Here are some of those highlights.
On collaborating with Cage:
“He had approved the script ahead of time and if there were things that I felt could use a little fleshing out in certain scenes, mostly in emotional scenes with him and Robin Tunney who plays his wife, he was very willing to work with me and Robin on the material as long as we kept it a very clear definition of where I thought some stuff was needed and what we could do to it.”
On Cage’s professionalism:
“You know because he does so many pictures a year a director could worry at the outset that he’s just kind of going through, one after the other, without a lot of passion for the ones that he doesn’t care as much about, but in fact, he shows up incredibly well prepared, totally in the character and the reality of the picture and was just completely professional and just a joy to collaborate with, to work with.”
On Cage as an actor:
“He’s super bright, super good. He goes from one picture to the next and as far as I can tell he’s pretty wonderful in all of them. I haven’t seen Mandy but I certainly saw Mom and Dad which I thought he was great in. I once read an interview with him where he sort of likened what he’s doing to the golden age of the studio system where a guy like Cagney or Edward G. Robinson who were under contract to the studio would just do one picture after another and the studio could put them through five pictures a year. I respond to that, of course. I think that is a good analogy and I think it’s a good way to work because it’s so hard in the feature business to get projects off the ground quickly. You’re waiting often, so much time between one project and another to get them green lit, etcetera, etcetera. So I think that if you can find your way into a situation where you can work in the way that the great studio contract actors worked, that’s a good thing. It’s one reason why I like doing television because it keeps me on the floor saying ‘action’ a lot and I’m dealing with all kinds of different material. So I think there’s something to be said for finding a way to keep working.”
On Cage’s body of work:
“His issues are well enough known in the tabloids, but I certainly would prefer to focus on the work and that positive aspect to it. You know if you can be James Cagney in this day and age, and God knows he has the talent, I say terrific. If you look at his past body of work it’s extraordinary. You just see picture after picture that you sort of forget where there in the cannon. You can see the totality of the amount of excellent work this guy has done.”