“Pig” is an odd, original and unpredictable film, a debut work that is difficult to describe but rewarding for anyone seeking something you haven’t seen before.
It stars Nicolas Cage- whoa, did I just lose you? Where are you going? Come back!
A year ago, I was writing an article for this site that defended Cage – specifically, how this past January made it 25 years since he won the Best Actor Oscar (well-deserved for “Leaving Las Vegas”), an award most wouldn’t assume Cage had ever won.
I’m a big fan of his work but I get it; he’s spent the past 20 years making dozens of cheeseball cheapies, most of which simply exploited his tendency to howl at the moon in lieu of subtlety.
Over the past 20 years, Cage has surprised us with great, risk-taking works like “Joe,” “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” “The Weather Man,” “Matchstick Men” “World Trade Center” and “Mandy.”
In between those sleepers are too many dogs to count (like the absurdly titled “Bangkok Dangerous”). Last year, a few weeks before I turned in my essay on how Cage is misunderstood, coasting but harnessing unutilized brilliance and he deserves our respect and not our mockery, the announcement came that his next film was some “Five Nights at Freddy”-ripoff slasher movie.
Suddenly, my Leave Nic Cage Alone plea came across as foolish, so I dumped the article. Now, here we go again.
Cage, who has taken more movie roles than seemingly possible in the past decade, is clearly picking up dumb movies alongside the good ones, though the stinkers are outnumbering the winners.
The disheartening amount of bad Cage movies are eclipsing the numerous winners (everything from early triumphs like “Valley Girl,” “Wild At Heart” and “Honeymoon in Vegas” to post Oscar hits like “Face/Off” and “Snake Eyes”). Still, the actor always gives his roles 100 percent (even when only 45 will do) and, when he and the film connect, the synergy is exhilarating.
Case in point: “Pig.”
The less you know about the plot, the better, so here’s a scant description: Cage’s Rob lives alone in the woods with his pet, a truffle pig, The two spend their days hunting for truffles, which they dig up, clean and send to a snarky in-between man (Alex Wolff of “Hereditary”), who sends Rob’s findings to five-star restaurants.
We don’t know who Rob is, nor does he say much – he clearly hasn’t bathed in a long time, is comfortable living alone and loves his pig. When the pig is stolen, Rob returns to the civilization for the first time in a decade in search of his pet.
“Pig” has a set-up that sounds like a swine-infused “John Wick,” but this isn’t an action movie, nor is it a send-up or a comedy (intentional or otherwise). What is it, then? It’s a character-driven drama that unfolds in a novelistic fashion, unrushed in its pace and a tight 90-minutes.
Cage is restrained, which will surprise everyone who ever wrote him off, but he’s also generous and soulful here, too. I’m talking about his work in “Pig” but let’s just acknowledge it: he happily gives look-at-me hambone performances in movies that are beneath him but clearly is saving the good stuff for films like this.
The film finds its footing at the mid-point, during a beautifully written scene where Rob encounters a former protégée (David Knell, wonderful in a single scene), whose cheerful professionalism doesn’t convince Rob.
Wolff is exceptional in this, unveiling tortured layers to a character who initially seems like an amusingly detached and self-serving jerk. Adam Arkin has one of his best film roles, playing a key figure from Rob’s past.
The pacing and the screenplay’s unwillingness to embrace formula will make this a challenge for audiences expecting something familiar. Although there are elements here that I wish were more fleshed out, it is refreshing to experience a film that wants to take you places you’ve never been, with a terrific Cage as our guide.
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