H.I McDunnough in Raising Arizona (1987)
Thinking about it, the combination of the Coen Brothers and Nicolas Cage makes some kind of perfect sense – the actor that relishes unusual, absurdist characters, and the filmmakers that specialize in the same. When this combination hit the big screen in 1987’s Raising Arizona, the result was a performance so perfectly crafted for the film that the entire project remains a firm favourite of film fans everywhere.
Cage plays H.I McDunnough – a man with a compulsion to rob convenience stores. He marries the police officer that repeatedly books him into jail (Holly Hunter), and the two build a legitimate, crime-free life together in a trailer home. They are unable to conceive a child, however, and kidnap one of the newborn ‘Arizona Quints’ – born to local businessman Nathan Arizona and his wife. Matters are complicated when two former prison inmates arrive having escaped from jail, and H.I begins experiencing nightmares in which he is pursued by a terrifying man on a motorcycle.
Cage achieves an impressive balance in this role – presenting H.I as a man battling a very real sense of personal defeat. He conducts himself in an almost exhausted manner, only becoming animated when frustrated. The kidnap sequence is a particular highlight, as Cage uses his long, lean frame to fill every inch of the Arizona Quints’ nursery, while the scenes with his former fellow prisoners provide opportunity for some early classic Cage. However, it isn’t until the final confrontation between H.I and his motorcycle-riding pursuer that we see him go ‘Full Cage.’