It's been quite a while since Nicolas Cage has been given something so grounded in reality. The Academy Award-winning actor has most recently become notorious for starring in a string of bizarre cult films...sure, he has occasionally come back to the mainstream to voice Grug the dad in "The Croods" and Superman in "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies," but mostly he has stockpiled his filmography with B-movies ("Mandy" and "Joe" perhaps stand out, while the direct-to-VOD releases "Rage," "Dying in the Light," "Arsenal," "The Humanity Bureau," "Kill Chain," "Primal" and "Jiu Jitsu" do not).
In "Pig," the premise is on par with his recent stretch of totally-bananas movies: Cage plays a lonely truffle-hunter whose pet pig is stolen, and so he goes on a mission to find it. But there is a surprising tone to "Pig," and it gives Cage his best platform in years to remind us that there is an Oscar-winning actor still in there, somewhere.
"Pig" is most effective in how it slowly reveals Cage's character, Rob, as the film progresses. When we meet him, he lives an isolated life in a cabin deep in the wilderness and away from any form of civilized life. His only companion is his hunting pig, and when he returns after a long day's hunt, he seems to reminisce about his past to the tune of a worn-out cassette tape. His only human contact at all is Amir (Alex Wolff), a slick businessman who takes Rob's truffles and sells them at a large profit back in the nearby downtown area of Portland, Oregon.
One night though, some men break-into Rob's cabin and they take his prized pig. Rob - a man of very few words, especially to open the movie - takes Amir and heads back into the underbelly of the city, where we slowly learn is a world that Rob knows all too well.
I have a sneaky suspicion that "Pig" may disappoint the cult Nicolas Cage fan, expecting something a little bit more...exciting. "Pig" looks mostly inward, and is slow and deliberate. Cage, a great big burl of a man in this movie, is dirty and dusty, lost behind a mat of hair and a grizzly beard. It's his best performance in years, but one that requires he stays under a certain decibel level throughout. Throughout much of the film, it's even hard to get a read on him, because the camera - like everything else in Rob's life - is kept at a distance. We creep in on Cage's face the further along we go, and an effective score helps set the mood. But those looking for anything other than a slow-burn will feel left out in the cold.
Reading this film's description and seeing its star, it's no wonder why "Pig" feels like a massive achievement, only because of how effectively it subverts audience expectations. It's about much more than a pig, and it's a dish that leaves some surprising aftertastes.
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin.
Co-Written and Directed by Michael Sarnoski (feature-film directorial debut).
"Pig" is in theaters and available on Friday, July 16th, 2021.
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