There is a fundamental question that lingers in the back of everyone’s mind when they hear about a new Nicolas Cage film is coming; how crazy it is? We ask this because of the track record delivered by the renowned actor over the last forty years in this business. He’s an acquired taste. A wild card that’s not for everyone yet somewhat inescapable and downright entertaining. Heck, the man has his own all day marathon set every year for fans to come and celebrate the craze that is Nicolas Cage. And yet, hiding deep in the weird straight to DVD projects and end of the world disaster movies lies possibly one of the best actors in the world when he is on his A-game. Don’t believe me, look at his work in Adaptation, Moonstruck, Raising Arizona, Matchstick Men, Joe, his Oscar-winning performances in Leaving Las Vegas, and countless other projects that prove he isn’t a joke. And with his latest film, Pig, Cage shows yet again just how great he can be.
The film starts with Rob (Cage) a truffle hunter living out in isolation with his one and only companion, a pig. They work in a partnership with a young man named Amir (Alex Wolff), who takes the truffles Rob finds and sells them to the local restaurants in the greater Portland area. Through the first ten minutes of the film, we learn through an elegant cooking sequence that Rob might be more than meets the eye, as he prepares a beautiful meal for himself and his pig. One night, out of the blue, Rob is attacked and his pig is taken from him, leaving him defenseless on the ground as the scratching of the pig rings his ears. The next day, he enlists Amir to help him find his only friend left in this world, by any means necessary.
It’s at this point in the film where you expect Pig to take the expected turn of being a John Wick rip-off, and Cage to unleash havoc all over the individuals responsible for stealing his pig. But that is not where director/co-writer Michael Sarnoski and Cage (a producer on the film) want to take Rob and this story. Instead, they make Cage explore Rob’s past, why he has isolated himself and hid his gift of cooking from the world, and why he ended up in the position he is in. This leads to enteral discoveries of guilt mixed with a pinch of acceptance and empathy for those he interacts with. There is a tender scene at a restaurant between a former chef of Rob’s in his old life that leads to both characters laying out their passions on the table right before sipping a vintage glass of wine to cover the sorrow. In another Cage film, this scene would’ve led to bloodshed and over the top action. Instead, Pig lingers on its lead actor’s face, leaving him vulnerable throughout the entire run time, both physically and emotionally.
Beyond the surface level drama finds a meta element to this film that uses the quest for the pig to be something more than just a retrievement of an animal. In many ways, the pig is a symbol of Cage’s material hold on the career he has built over the years. Like a pig, his career might not be elegant to traditional standards, but it is layered and deeply personal to the actor and when studios or audiences have tried to take it away over time, he fights back with outstanding work and vulnerable performances to keep them at bay. This may be lost in the years of him becoming a rolling meme on the internet, but new generations don’t have the full understanding of just how good this man can be when both the material and effort are there.
Respect has to be given to Cage, who doesn’t use his traditional camp or veracity to carry himself here. Instead, it’s an introspective take, where his silence and brooding take center stage and we see an actor in full control of his character and surroundings. His scenes cooking meals for others are comparable to Cage crafting performances and characters we’ve grown accustomed to him over his time on screen. Such a treat like this shouldn’t be wasted, and one would hope we see more projects from Cage in the future given how good it is and how it’s not just one of the best performances of the year so far, but how it is the best work he has ever done.
Neon will release Pig only in theaters on July 16.