Prisoners of the Ghostland review: Mad Max samurai movie rules by Nic Cage

[Ed. note: This review was first published in conjunction with Prisoners of Ghostland’s release at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It has been updated for the film’s theatrical release.]

Logline: When Bernice (Sofia Boutella) disappears into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, her wealthy and well-connected foster grandfather pulls a bank robber (Nicolas Cage) out of jail, ties him up in a leather suit fitted with bombs, and gives him five days to get her back. – or suffer explosive consequences.

Longest line: Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono has made a career out of extremism. Movies like the four-hour sex and religion game Exhibition of love and the street gang musical Tokyo tribe They are the daydreams of a cinematic madman. Pairing him with Cage not only seems like a good idea, it sounds like a cosmic law. These two good chaotic titans I had to make a movie together before they finished.

Delving too deep into the plot of Prisoners of the ghost country not so much a spoiler problem as a futile attempt to describe a mix of genres with hedonistic urges, but anyway here’s a sample: after a botched bank robbery sheds innocent blood, “Hero” (Cage) and his bulky accomplice (Nick Cassavetes) is locked in the dungeons of Samurai Town. In the niche of East and West, samurai roam the streets and a Kentucky Fried gentleman named The Governor (Bill Moseley) rules like a mob boss. The Governor recruits Hero as his own Suicide Squad to retrieve Bernice from the post-apocalyptic dead zone beyond the walls. To make sure the criminal doesn’t get too slick, the mobster locks Hero in what is fair to call Chekov’s leather suit. If something goes wrong with the mission, it is goodbye to the precious parts of the body. There are even two small bombs located on Hero’s testicles. No spoilers, but Sono doesn’t let the ball hang in the air for long.

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shadowy figures in a dust bowl near a mannequin in Prisoners of the Ghostland

Image: RLJE Films

What follows is basically that of Nic Cage Mad Max: Fury Road. The title’s “Ghost Country” is an irradiated area with a good number of infected citizens looking for a better life, and creepy zombies for Cage to walk through. When Hero connects with Bernice, the two unravel the mysteries behind How Things Got This Way and why some desert cultists scream. PROPHECY! “And” THICK RED BLOOD! “Throughout the journey, Hero remembers the traumatic moments of the robbery gone wrong and works through the mistakes of his past to find something akin to redemption. He also fights against a group of ninjas.

That Prisoners of the ghost country Trying to do? Hit the bombast of Hollywood blockbusters against the bombast of Japanese action movies to see what goes on. From the exaltation of a motorcycle Cage as the pinnacle of cool (someone off-screen literally says “It’s … so cool”) to the near-satirism of Kurosawa tropes, Sono has a globetrotting taste and zero restraint in put every lost idea on the screen. Yet unexpectedly, it is one of the director’s most important endeavors. What could easily become a Crank-as exercise in hyperactivity is done with a firm hand and with appreciation for details. Sono wants its audience delight in the brutal beauty of Boutella wielding a machine gun.

In his notes for the film, Sono says that while Prisoners of the ghost country puts the love of pop entertainment on the screen, “What I really wanted to create behind all of that are distortions of modern society making the unreal world a reality. I think we live in an irrational world. “It’s hard to disagree, although the film doesn’t spend a lot of time considering those distortions. Yes, Ghostland is the by-product of a toxic spill, and its inhabitants, good and bad, are suffering. But the potential social or ecological comment never comes to light. Instead, what we see is what we get: the “ghosts” are literal, the radiation timeline is mythology, and the decimated world is fertile ground for prophecies. from Hero’s Journey about Cage being the “mightiest watch” or something like that. Sono seems to have challenged himself to make the most entertaining movie of all time.

The quote that says it all: [Extreme Nic Cage acting voice] “I AM RADIOACTIVE.”

Does it get there? Prisoners of the ghost country It is set up for the midnight movie slot, packed with people and with few drinks. Presented in the less-than-ideal location at home, by the nature of virtual Sundance, it is a delightful love letter to action movie excess. Like the Wachowskis ascent to Jupiter or, more literally, Who Killed Roger Rabbit, Sono adopts the absurd logic of the cartoon to lead Cage to each of the film’s unexpected mile markers. The governor is American, so obviously he walks around dressed in white and wearing a cowboy hat. Samurai warriors could also be RPG NPCs engaged in a sword battle set in Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” A sequence depicting the accident that melted the field into a decaying hue of what it was before, scrolls across the screen like the pages of a manga. A star who has perfected open mouth, raised eyebrow “Wut?” The face is the glue that holds all the pieces together to the collage.

But let’s not underestimate Cage. It rises to the level of Sono. Sporting weird spray-on Ken doll makeup and killer energy from Lee Marvin, Cage becomes a living action figure. It even has kung fu grip! In a third act sequence, Cage (or at least an armored body double) comes face to face with the samurai’s head, performing movements that keep pace with the camera’s kinetic work. If only Sono had found more things to do for Boutella, Prisoners of the ghost country it could have achieved instant cult status. With action credits like Kingsman, Atomic blonde, and Star trek beyond to his name, he is more than capable of performing stunts and choreography. Sono loses her to Cage’s shadow, but again, she can really make that Gatling gun sing.

Like previous Sono movies, Prisoners of the ghost country it is eye-catching. The costumes, ranging from radioactive fallout gear to luxurious traditional robes, tell as much story as any expository dialogue. The sets, while occasionally looking like stand-ups on the soundstage, continue the aggressive Dadaist approach of the director. One minute Sono takes viewers onto the Tokyo-inspired streets of Samurai Town, then seconds later, we’re in Ghostland, a junkyard built across Hook. It is full of oddities.

What does that bring us? A great reminder that fast-paced action movies don’t have to cost $ 200 million. Sono’s production may never catch on like Japan’s anime exports or Korean authors like Bong Joon-ho, but for anyone exhausted by the homogeneity of American superhero cinema, there’s a whole backlog waiting for it. . Prisoners of the ghost country it’s a great digestible start.

And a note on Cage: After running into some financial trouble in the 2010s, the former A-lister is suspected of signing any script that comes across his desk. Okay yeah, there are stinky stuff in his filmography to support the theory, but Cage, unlike Bruce Willis and his current DGAF-on-DTV run, shows up for every damn movie he’s in. It seems to find life blood in the rare and extreme cases. Sono is on the same mission. There is no wink-wink cynicism in casting Cage for this role. He’s a BIG movie star with no BIG movies to star in. Prisoners of the ghost country demands your style.

The most memorable moment: I really want to talk about what happens with the testicular bomb explosion, but look at it.

Prisoners of the ghost country is now in cinemas available to rent at Amazon, Appleand other VOD platforms.