Picture this: A grizzled Nicolas Cage enters a bank and holds it up. The heist goes bad, and his accomplice ends up killing several people before Cage is arrested for the crime. Later, a man dressed in all-white shows up and offers him a chance at redemption for his sins. Upon accepting this crusade, a fight breaks out with samurai swords, followed by our “hero” riding off on a bicycle with a cute white basket on the front, complete with little bells.
No, I am not talking about some wild dream I had after downing a bottle of tequila, chased with muscle relaxers (that is a completely different story). I am talking about the latest Nicolas Cage film called Prisoners of the Ghostland. The film is from director Sion Sono, who may not be a household name, but is very well known on the Japanese film festival circuit.
This film represents his first English-language film. A mix of Western mythos, classical Japanese storytelling and post-apocalyptic themes makes Prisoners of the Ghostland a very interesting-sounding film. But does it actually work?
Prisoners of the Ghostland takes place in Japan after a nuclear accident, rendering much of the land ravaged, earning it the name The Ghostland. As mentioned earlier, Nicolas Cage plays Hero, a notorious criminal who is captured and placed in prison after a botched bank robbery leads to the deaths of several innocent people by his accomplice, known as Psycho (Nick Cassavetes).
His prison is located in Samurai Town, which is ruled by The Governor (Bill Moseley), who keeps a group of sex slaves he calls his granddaughters. When one of his slaves, Bernice (Sofia Boutella), escapes into the Ghostland with two other slaves, The Governor burdens Hero with the job of finding her. To keep him on task, The Governor has Hero put into a specially designed jumpsuit that has explosives places at key locations on his body, ensuring Hero completes his task within five days or die.
Yes, this film is as bat-shit crazy as you would think. As with all of his roles, Nic Cage took the character of Hero to a whole new level. While watching the film, I couldn’t help but equate him to Mel Gibson in the Mad Max film series. In fact, a lot of this film pays homage to that franchise, including the Tom Hardy film from just a few years ago.
One could easily see Prisoners of the Ghostland as being another story set in this universe. Hero encounters pain and strife for a mission he does not necessarily believe in. And yet, he has to play the hero (no puns intended), digging into his inner being to become the unlikely savior the people need.
Still, Prisoners of the Ghostland does have some issues. While the premise is amazing, the result is lackluster at best, boring at worst. There is really no time given to show you why you should like Hero and really hate The Governor.
Yes, you are fed enough backstory to know who is supposed to be cheered for and who is supposed to be despised. But at no point does the film let us make our own determinations on this. It is forced onto the audience. With this lack of substance, the film just feels long and drawn out.
Not even the acting abilities of the great Cage can salvage the tediousness of the film.
Prisoners of the Ghostland earns three out of five stars. Director Sono is on the right track with great and weird films. Teaming up with one of the greatest actors of our time in this presentation couldn’t have been scripted better. If he takes more time and tells better stories like this, Sono will have a bright future in Hollywood.
However; right now, my suggestion is to wait for Prisoners of the Ghostland to be on Netflix or another streaming service before you seek it out.
But when that time comes, be sure to check it out!