The basic premise of Nicholas Cage as a man wrestling with the age-old dilemma of whether his family or career is more important may sound rather familiar to fans of this often brilliant, frequently erratic actor.

Back in 2000, his disappointing feel-good flick The Family Man – even the title was similar – gave him a Sliding Doors-style second chance at life, where he opted for love over money.

Here, as the titular weather man, Cage is again faced with the depressing realisation that money isn’t everything as he comes to terms with the disappointment of his father (a somewhat restrained Michael Caine) and taut relationship with his ex-wife and children.

Yet whereas The Family Man saw Cage come to embrace the apple pie values of family and love in a gushing, sickly-sweet attempt to make everyone feel warm inside, here we have a much darker take on the American dream, a cold satire of the values of the modern world. Cage’s character is a fake, a weather man with no knowledge of meteorology in Chicago, a place so beset by weather its nickname is “the windy city”, and a figure of hatred for viewers as much as for his family. His general attitude is to return the contempt, avoiding his overweight daughter and pushing away his son, yet the offer of a job on a national TV station provides him with a perfect opportunity to reassess his life.

Nicholas Cage was once regarded as a potential claimant to the perennial “finest actor of his generation” gong. So determined was he to earn his place as a respected actor, he changed his name to hide the fact that he’s the nephew of uber-director Francis Ford Coppola, and refused any assistance from his uncle in building his career. He showed early promise in a string of independent films like the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona and David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, and seemed all set up to be an intriguing indy film character actor, specialising in slightly odd, somewhat put-upon losers – much like his character here.

As Cage has shown most recently with his Oscar-nominated turn in 2002′s Adaptation, he is still capable of giving quirky and considered performances, even if he more often than not opts for phoned-in turns in the tedious likes of Con Air, National Treasure or Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Yet even when he doesn’t bother trying, Cage is always engaging and watchable – which, considering his favoured screen personas are often relaxed almost to the point of being comatose, is no mean feat.

Here it is entirely Cage’s performance that makes the film worth watching. His character would, in almost any other hands, be simply unlikable. He has nothing going for him, is unpleasant, self-centred, and seemingly incapable of relating to other people. Yet despite this, Cage somehow makes him seem sympathetic while never hiding his flaws. It is surprisingly subtle, ably helped by director Gore Verbinski, best known as the man at the helm of Pirates of the Caribbean. While certainly unlikely to earn Cage any more award nominations, and nowhere near his best work, it is a great example of effortless acting turning what might have been a decidedly unpleasant central character into someone you can actually root for. Think Bill Murray in Groundhog Day – though by no means as good as that mid-90s comedy classic, this is along the same lines, and for Cage alone it is well worth a look.