It’s an odd time to be alive. Gas prices are insanely expensive. People still walk around wearing masks. And Nicolas Cage gives one of the best performances of the year, in one of the best movies of the year so far. Believe it or not, that last one is probably the oddest, but it’s no less true.
So, over the past twenty years, Nicolas Cage has become something of a punchline. He seems like such an odd guy, but he’s also really fascinating (went bankrupt over buying castles, owns a dinosaur skull or something), but he also tends to star in a lot of garbage. You know, the kind of movies you pass by on a shelf at Walmart and think, “This is where he ended up.” Truth be told, I skip out on a huge chunk of his clunkers, unless there is some form of buzz surrounding them. He is someone whose work has been written off, but not entirely by me. Because need I remind you that this man does have an Oscar- a much deserved one too, for Leaving Las Vegas. Truth is, when Cage has the right material (Adaptation, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Mandy, Kick Ass, etc.) he is great. He just often doesn’t choose the right material.
With Pig, he has found the right material.
Which seems odd, because reading a synopsis for this film, it very much sounds like the kind of fare Nicolas Cage has been doing these past few years. It doesn’t really sound like anything worthy of an Academy Award… but dammit, it is. Having not seen a trailer for this film, I basically went off of the buzz. Reading a synopsis, it sounds like something in the vein of John Wick. Yet this is anything but. It’s actually a rich, heartbreaking and bizarrely absorbing character study which gives Cage his best work in probably over ten years.
Cage plays Robin, and when the film opens, we see him living in a shack in the woods, spending all of his time with his pig. This is actually a truffle pig, who has a keen nose for finding truffles, and Robin makes his living off of selling those truffles to a dealer named Amir (Alex Wolff, a strong counterpart). Robin looks like absolute hell; he’s scruffy, dirty, and need I remind you that he literally lives in a shack. How does one end up this way? That is, essentially, the mystery at the center of Pig.
Robin uses the pig for financial gain but he also cares deeply for her, and even though it doesn’t look like an ideal way of living, in Robin’s eyes, he’s at peace. Said peace is more than disturbed though when, in the middle of the night, a group of junkies break into Robin’s shack and abduct his pig. So Robin pretty much forces Amir into helping him find his pig. One could see where the opportunity for a John Wick knockoff would arrive, and even the movie flirts with it too, in a strange scene where Robin gets the hell beat out of him in order to find answers.
That’s just it though: at every turn, the film could’ve gone that route, but it doesn’t, and it’s wiser for it. Pig is essentially Robin’s story, and I don’t really want to give too much away, but there’s something very realistic about this person. It’s a film that is ultimately about letting the audience piece together just who this seemingly strange man is. Yet what unfolds is something beautiful and real; there’s more to Robin than meets the eye, and he’s chosen to live the way that he lives and if it makes him happy, so be it.
Cage is brilliant here. This kind of movie could’ve let him run wild, but again, thankfully it doesn’t. Much of Pig finds him restrained and quiet, and yet with the development of this character, we also sense that he is the real deal, even if those days are behind him. There is a certain beauty to the way that writer Vanessa Block and writer/director Michael Sarnoski portray this character. It must also be said that the casting of Cage is pretty inspired, considering what he’s been up to lately. The performance he gives this time is a wonder though. Quiet and restrained, but nonetheless intimidating. What’s more impressive though is that when he does get scenes of screaming, it feels realistic and earned, because someone as quiet as Robin would only raise their voice if they were truly distraught.
Cage and Wolff sound like an odd pair, but the two actually work beautifully together. Pig is also a film that happens to work beautifully in general. I love a scene between Cage and a chef in the middle of the restaurant- you can hear a pin drop. There’s also a few great scenes with Cage and Adam Arkin, as Amir’s dad. At the film’s core though is our human interest in Robin’s human interest. Robin’s only true love left in life is his pig, and while that sounds utterly ridiculous on paper, you’d be shocked to see that it’s really beautifully convincing onscreen. Cage, and Pig, will probably be overlooked come Oscar season, yet for those who have completely written him off as a joke, I assure you, he, and Pig, are no joke.
He’s still got it.