The wild tale of Gary Brooks Faulkner, the 50-year-old Colorado construction worker who ventured into Pakistan to capture Osama bin Laden armed with a samurai sword and a mission from God, is a stranger-than-fiction story so bizarre it’s no wonder Hollywood snapped up the rights to turn it into a film.
When that film stars the one and only Nicolas Cage as the bespectacled hash-smoking Christian part-time handyman ex-con given to manic verbal diarrhea and fantastical delusions of grandeur, Faulkner’s eccentric life story zooms way past verisimilitude, speeding all the way back around to the kind of wonderfully insane art form in itself that we see too rarely from movie stars these days. Is it a bad performance? Is it good? What is good, really, when Cage opts to put seriousness aside and embrace the crazy-eyed kookiness we love him for?
In other words: Cage’s star turn in Army of One, directed by deadpan auteur Larry Charles (Borat), is right up there with the Nic Cagiest of Nic Cage roles. You might say it falls somewhere on the Cage spectrum between the coked-up cop antihero of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and his impersonation of Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation. Brit comedy bad boy Russell Brand plays God, which should give you an idea of how serious and straight-faced an undertaking this is.
This is a film that lets Cage run rampant in nearly every scene like a bull in a china shop, which can admittedly become exhausting. And yet it captures the undercurrent of well-meaning humanity that drove the erratic, abrasive, but kind of lovable weirdo who truly believed he was doing the Lord’s work by bringing bin Laden to justice. (And, owing to a prior kidney condition, was supposed to be on dialysis treatment three times a week.)
Army of One is also a movie in which Nicolas Cage as Gary Faulkner, who returned home a media darling and famously made the talk show rounds, revels in the attention—and delights at the thought of Nicolas Cage playing him in a movie.
It’s almost a shame how unceremoniously this gem of a Cage performance is being dumped into a mostly digital release by the Weinsteins (who have executive producer credits). Perhaps true Cage fans will catch it on VOD, in the privacy of their own homes, where no one can see you cackle at the sight of Nicolas Cage, gray beard and long ponytail, waxing poetic about chicken wings and lecturing strangers on how to buy toilets at Home Depot, delivering lines like “They don’t call me the psychic wizard for nothin’!” with nasally, wild-eyed gusto.
The real-life saga of Faulkner’s one-man odyssey was an epic misadventure for the ages. After getting the idea to hunt down Osama from God in a dream in 2004, the Greeley, Colorado, native made several attempts to travel to the Middle East. They included buying a 21-foot yacht he had no idea how to operate, which he planned to sail halfway across the globe in with no life jackets, no safety kit, and no training. He set off from San Diego and made it as far as Mexico before a hurricane wrecked it and sent him home early.
Another failed boat trip later and Faulkner graduated to flying, still with no conceivable plans for traveling in a foreign land. By the time he actually made it to Pakistan for the first time, according to the film, he spent a month wandering the slums of Islamabad, having a blast, and entertaining the locals. But he was no closer to finding al-Qaeda’s leader and sending him to America to face retribution.
Faulkner’s story only got out after he was found and arrested on a mountaintop in Pakistan in the summer of 2010. According to the GQ story by journalist Chris Heath from which Army of One liberally borrows, he was found carrying a knife, a pistol, night vision goggles, and that trusty sword. By the time the American government sent him back home, the media had dubbed him the Rocky Mountain Rambo. A year later, after the buzz had died down, he was stuck behind bars in Colorado on a $10,000 bond, jailed on a gun charge.
There’s a surprising wealth of real-life details packed into Army of One, written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, along with a winking framework that sets Cage as Faulkner apart from the ordinary boring world around him—the Don Quixote of Islamabad. For every fictional line like “I take a holy shit every day,” uttered by Brand’s verbose God, we hear quotes taken directly from the real Faulkner: “It’s easier for a mouse to get into a castle than a lion,” he says, explaining his plan to infiltrate “Binny Boy’s” stronghold to a fellow patron at a bar.
It’s an extraordinarily weird true story that allows for an extraordinarily weird performance from Cage—who has another oddball film, Dog Eat Dog, and a WWII naval drama, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, out in the span of a few weeks. When else might we revel in the sight of Nic Cage (as Faulkner) and Osama bin Laden hooked up to matching dialysis machines in bin Laden’s cave before dueling with samurai swords? As Faulkner asks his audience, gesticulating wildly into the camera: “Don’t you think I look a little like Nic Cage in CON AIR?!”