National Treasure is a movie I spent a lot of time trying to hate. I didn’t like Nicholas Cage. I didn’t like its fictionalized take on American history. I didn’t like how Indiana Jones-ish it was trying to be. But then some random television channel got the rights to air it, and I found myself watching it every damn time it came on. After about six months of consistent viewing I learned to relax and love this silly action-adventure franchise.
And yes, it is silly. Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a treasure hunter seeking a legendary hidden trove of riches stashed away by the Founding Fathers. This alone made my eyes roll on first viewing. As if individuals in the know wouldn’t have used up this fortune over time. I mean, one of the biggest issues facing America during the Revolutionary War was financing it. Seems like someone would have suggested using just a little of this Knights Templar/Freemason’s stash to stave off inflation? It’s not like they were saving it for a rainy day. If I remember correctly, the treasure was hidden because it was too big for any one man, or something. I get that, just seems greedy that they wouldn’t share any of it.
However, once I got past the plot details, I started to have some fun. Cage has grown on me over the years, mostly due to his performance in this movie. He’s still prone to the overacting that’s spawned countless YouTube montages, but also displays the right amount of humor to overshadow his negatives. This character is the type of crazy obsessive that populates movies, and Cage does a good job of setting him apart from the rest of the pack within the constraints of the script. I also really love Justin Bartha as sidekick Riley. He gets most of the jokes and punchlines, which he delivers with a dry sarcasm that doesn’t feel stale. Rounding out the main cast is Diane Kruger, who starts as Gate’s foil and ends up as his love interest. Nothing groundbreaking there, but this character is smart and resourceful, elevating her above eye candy status.
While National Treasure at times is silly and forced, it’s the right amount of both. Is the overall story ridiculous? Yes. The plot involves so many improbable moments and lame dialogue that with lesser actors the whole thing could have been a marvelous parody. And yet, it’s a lot of fun to watch and I never regret giving it another viewing.
This is Nicholas Cage at his best. He has made some top action flicks, and some stinkers in his day, but National Treasure manages to be just the right combination of action, adventure and humour. The film is so entertaining, you will even forgive some pretty questionable dialogue (“We’re more like treasure protectors.”).
Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, a treasure hunter who believes that there is a map to a secret treasure hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. He and his trusty sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), recruit a sceptical member of the National Archives (Diane Kruger) who believes Gates is crazy and even if he were telling the truth, the Declaration is impossible to steal. Gates proves them all wrong by actually stealing the document before a rival (Sean Bean), and using it on a hunt to find a treasure secretly hidden by the Founding Fathers during the Revolutionary War. Along for the ride is Gates’ grumpy father (Jon Voight) who refuses to believe his son, until it turns out he might have actually found a clue on the Declaration of Independence.
Look, National Treasure is not going to win any acting awards, but it is a damn fun time. While Cage is no Harrison Ford, this movie reminds me a lot of Indiana Jones in terms of tone. There is a lot of fun to be had in this film. It is Cage at his most charming, and he has assembled a strong group of supporting actors to take on his ride. Justin Bartha is particularly fun as the sarcastic sidekick, and Diane Kruger has good chemistry with Cage. And Sean Bean is always a good baddie.
Of course not many people will be entering into this movie looking for strongly developed characters or plot, we are here for action and adventure. National Treasure delivers both. The sequence where Cage steals the Declaration is great. Definitely the film’s highlight for me.
There’s not much more to say about National Treasure. If you want a film that will entertain you, this one is for you. There is also enough history sewn into the plot that you don’t necessarily have to leave your brain at the door either. I am not as well versed in my US history as some people, but from what I understood, a lot of the plot points in the film revolve around actual history, which is not something you would expect from a dumb action film.
National Treasure is just a fun film, and perhaps my favourite Nicholas Cage movie.