WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Based on the true story of an earnest but possibly insane handyman named Gary Faulkner (Nicolas Cage), who is commanded by God (Russell Brand) to travel to Pakistan, capture Osama bin Laden and bring him back to America to "face justice and stuff".
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Nicolas Cage is an enigma. He won an Oscar for his dramatic performance in Leaving Las Vegas, been celebrated as memes for his famously bizarre performances (Vampire's Kiss, The Wicker Man), mocked for his forays into action movies (Face/Off, Con Air) and applauded for the roles in which he's comfortably slipped under the skin of over-the-top wildcards (Kick-Ass, Raising Arizona).
Army of One is an example of Cage embracing his ability to play energetic madmen. His performance as the lovable screw-up Faulkner is captivating. Every one of his interactions is full of a manic dynamism that compels the viewer to simultaneously root for and ridicule the misguided moron.
Director Larry Charles, former Seinfeld writer and frequent Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator, recognises the innate lunacy of the true story behind the film and encourages Nicolas Cage to go full Nicolas Cage in his portrayal of the real Faulkner. Faulkner's real-life personality, briefly shown during the credits, seems considerably more subdued.
Gary Faulkner is a sincere patriot, who gleefully counts the ways in which America is the greatest country — "kick-assedness" is a category he invokes at one point. His drinking buddies humour him and do their best to help him, but not many people take him seriously, until he meets old high school crush Marci (Wendi McLendon-Covey). The latter appreciates his enthusiasm for everything, including her adopted, disabled daughter. Marci's support for Gary's divine charge understandably starts to waver when the injuries and hospitalisations pile up.
In a flashback, we see how God first appeared to Gary when he was a child and needed some divine assistance in the face of neighbourhood bullies. Now God returns to grown-up Gary with a special mission: Gary must travel to Pakistan and capture America's most wanted enemy after eight years of the US fruitlessly searching for Bin Laden. Russell Brand's increasingly impatient performance as God is a pleasure to behold, as are Gary's pained reactions to seeing how his failures have disappointed the Lord Almighty. Gary's interactions with other characters, real or hallucinatory, are genuinely hilarious.
Eventually, Gary makes it to Pakistan and immediately starts making inquiries with locals about the location of "the Bearded One." This attracts the attention of the in-country CIA agents who are confused by tales of an American Samurai wandering the streets of Islamabad (God recommended Gary take a samurai sword on his mission). Gary's extended time in the Middle East means that he can no longer receive regular dialysis, which his doctor (Matthew Modine) warns could result in hallucinations.
Army of One doesn't delve too deeply into the themes it presents. It keeps its distance from political debate and steers clear of any serious discussions on mental health or American exceptionalism. In a way it's refreshing, but it also ensures that the film doesn't feel like much more than an extended comedy sketch.
The dialogue is punchy, Gary's misadventures are amusing, and the characters are surprisingly quite likeable. It probably won't inspire much in-depth analysis, but the story alone is representative of the kind of mysterious power American culture has over its citizens.
Gary claims not to have embarked on his mission for fame and glory but, of course, that is one of the results of his actions. By the end of the movie, you will have drawn some conclusions about Gary Faulkner - most likely they'll be either cynical or sympathetic, and despite the obvious, absurd comedy of the premise, it's a potentially interesting question for the viewer to chew on.
Provided you feel Army of One deserves that much reflection, which is about as likely as Gary Faulkner finding a terrorist in a Pakistani cave. Rather, sit back and enjoy Nicolas Cage being given free rein to be as bonkers as he can be.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: