Welcome dear reader to Nic Cage Month at Trash or Treasure. All four volumes of Trash or Treasure this month will be movies that prominently featuring Nic Cage, and this week we start with one of my personal favorites: National Treasure. While this might make me a little biased, it felt like the right to start with not only my personal favorite, but what might be his most well known film. The movie, also starring a whole plethora of great actors like Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger, and Sean Bean, tells the story of Benjamin Gates and his pal Riley Poole as they search for the famed Templar’s Treasure. The film sits in my mind pretty well, so let’s see how it holds up today for Trash or Treasure.
The film opens with a young boy, sneaking through his grandfather’s attic, looking for answers about a nondescript story when he is interrupted by grandpa-ex-machina who begins to tell him the story. We learn this young boy’s relative has been trusted with a treasure that has been around since Ancient Egypt and disappeared one day until the Knights Templar found it. The Templars smuggle the treasure out of Europe, form the Free Masons, and hide the treasure in America, even fighting off the British to protect the treasure. Yes, this film expects us to believe that the Revolutionary War was fought over this treasure and not freedom.
I’m about as skeptical that there was a historical consultant on this film
As Jon Voight is skeptical about the treasure in this film.
We hard cut to Antarctica where the man, the myth, the legend Nic Cage (Benjamin Gates) is leading an expedition through the Antarctic including his best pal Riley Poole and definitely-not-a-villain Ian Howe, played by sure to die at some point Sean Bean. Nic Cage spouts off some historical mush and we learn that they’re looking for a ship in the middle of Antarctica. Characters spout some more “I’m smarter than you” nonsense at each other, and after finding the ship through what I’m calling pure luck, they end up inside of it, finally having discovered the National Treasure.
Movie over, roll credits, everyone go home, nothing to see here.
Just kidding, they actually find another clue to another clue that might lead to the treasure someday. If that sentence confused you, then welcome to every treasure hunting movie’s logic ever. Especially in this movie, the amount of disbelief you have to suspend in order to think that one: any person could figure out this mess of clues; and two: no one has ever figured this out before Nic Cage did; well, the amount could fill a ship stranded in the Antarctic. Nic Cage picks up the clue, definitely-is-a-villain Ian Howe double crosses Nic and his buddy what’s-his-name, there’s a big explosion, and Nic and what’s-his-name are left stranded in the Antarctic. Honestly the whole sequence is such a cluster-fuck, you’re better off watching it to figure it all out.
Nic Cage? Overwhelming? Not a chance.
Side note for the readers here: if I commented on every time that Nic Cage talks down to someone else about historical or scientific knowledge, this article would be as long as War and Peace. What we’ll do instead is just assume it’s always happening in this movie, and instead focus on some of the other, sillier aspects. Cool? Cool.
Anyways, Nic and what’s-his-name decide to do the reasonable thing and start warning agencies about a plot to steal the Declaration of Independence (which Ian decided to do in the ice-boat-sequence that just occurred). They go to the National Archives (I think?) which is where the Declaration is held, and more importantly – future love interest (played by the saucy Diane Kruger with a bad “Saxony-German” accent (edit: I learned this is actually her accent, so my bad)). Future love interest doesn’t believe Nic and what’s-his-name about the plot to steal the Declaration or their silly ideas about the invisible map on the back of one of the most important documents in US history.
I mean, such a silly plot would have to be in a MOVIE or some…
Nic decides, against better judgement (i.e everyone else in the movie not named Ian Howe), that he’s going to steal the Declaration of Independence first (and thus birth a fantastic meme). What’s-his-name tries to prove to Nic that the Declaration is unstealable, but inadvertently tells us exactly how they plan on stealing it by showing us the blueprints to the National Archives, the way that they protect the Declaration of Independence, and even what kind of safe they keep it in when they don’t have it on display. They concoct some bullshit plan, and they steal the Declaration in such a ludicrous way that you’d think that ANYONE could steal it, and even through a shootout with Ian and his crew in unreasonably thin DC traffic they manage to get the Declaration AND future love interest into their van.
I honestly don’t know which I’d rather have.
Against all odds, they head to Nic’s dad’s house and avoid police who should’ve swarmed Nic’s dad’s house within moments. They manage to not ruin the Declaration of Independence by revealing the secret “map” with blow dryers. You may have noticed that I put “map” in quotations. That’s because it’s not a real map, it’s just another clue! Fuck me, there’s so many ridiculously connected clues I feel like I need a combination of Tom Hanks and a blue dog to point them all out to me. They discover that they need the “Silence Dogood letters” that Nic’s very skeptical and Jon Voight-y dad happens to have…wait, that’s actually Jon Voight? Huh, I thought he’d know better after Tomb Raider.
Pictured: also a bad treasure hunting movie.
Through sheer dumb luck, Ian Howe is still on the trail of Nic and gang, showing that someone should’ve solved this shit a long time ago.
Anyways, Nic, future love interest, and what’s-his-name make it all the way to Philadelphia, since his dad donated the letters to a museum like a sane person, they hire a kid to get all of the clues they need from the letters. While they let what’s-his-name handle this, Nic and future love interest buy some new clothes and shamelessly flirt with each other. It’s kind of like Stockholm Syndrome, except the movie’s not smart enough for that.
Let’s call it: “Declaration Syndrome”.
There’s some more convoluted clues (like the one pictured above) and some impossible coincidences that lead Nic and Ian’s separate crews through the Independence Hall and on to another clue: 1776’s version of 3D glasses. They decide to unreasonably look at the back of the Declaration with the spectacles while still in Independence Hall, as opposed to somewhere safe and away from Ian, and as a result split up the Declaration and glasses to escape Ian and his goons. Unfortunately, the document ends up with Ian through miraculous luck and Nic ends up with the FBI who are also hot on his trail.
Either because he’s bad at covering his tracks
Or because Harvey Keitel’s a badass.
There’s a whole silly sequence where Nic tries to help the FBI, but instead helps Ian, but only to try and double cross him later. Also the movie moved to New York for whatever reason, but the movie just glosses over why the FBI took him there. Anyways, Nic learns from Ian’s henchman that future (current?) love interest has made a deal with Ian to help find the treasure in exchange for breaking Nic out of FBI custody. It’s a mess of a plan, but I guess it checks out. Nic tries to bluff his way into not giving Ian the key to the treasure, but it turns out Ian has kidnapped Nic’s dad and so Nic is forced into helping Ian find the treasure beneath Trinity Church.
Coincidentally, I think it’s a similar plot as to how they got Jon Voight to do this film.
The now combined group searches through a surprisingly empty Trinity Church and find the secret tunnel down to where the treasure might be, hidden cleverly inside a sealed grave. At this point they descend into the darkness, complete with a good luck kiss from love interest, and they find an incredible sight of ancient elevators that lead down into a huge pit. They continue descending, complete with some pretend drama where we think one of the main characters might die and they end up at a small alcove near the bottom. Nic and his dad bullshit Ian into thinking it’s just another clue, and Ian leaves them there as he continues on the treasure hunt.
The suspense! What ever will they do?
They do a bit more ridiculous sleuthing, as they’ve done all movie, and Nic, love interest, Nic’s dad, and what’s-his-name discover an empty treasure room. Oh no! Someone has already cleared out the treasure! Just kidding, there’s another secret room that contains, quite frankly, a fucking shitload of treasure. They get the treasure, Nic gets the girl, and Ian gets put in jail; all the good stuff that happens at the end of a movie happens, and everything is tied up very nicely.
With a billion dollar bow.
The movie is a ridiculously hard to follow and mind-blowingly convoluted. There, I said it. And I said it first because what I’m about to say completely contradicts that. I love this movie. I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for treasure hunting movies, and this happens to be a pretty cool one. If you accept it for just that, it’s an alright film to watch. If you’re a fan of history, treasure hunting, Nic Cage’s overacting, and Diane Kruger’s sexy eyes and PG-rated cleavage then this movie is the right choice.
Pictured: a national treasure, goddammit.