Nicolas Cage has been churning out forgettable slop since 2014’s “Rage”. Despite releasing less than stellar DTV (direct to video) material, Cage keeps himself busy to where he has put out six movies in one year on more than one occasion. While Nicolas Cage and Bruce Willis have both been riding the DTV train for awhile. At least Cage gives a damn and always puts on a performance at a 100% effort, unlike Willis who just walks through these movies looking grumpy and shows no care in the world. Crazy to think that Cage’s last real big studio budgeted release was Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” nearly a decade ago.
But his newest film, simply titled “Pig” is a return to acting form for Cage (he also produces the film). The one time Oscar winner (“Leaving Las Vegas”) hasn’t been this good since 2009’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans” and 2013’s “Joe”. Making his writing and directing debut, Michael Sarnoski beautifully directs “Pig” in a stunning debut, with exquisite cinematography. Sarnoski’s film had an original cut that was over two hours long and had to cut nearly one hour from the movie as distributor Neon studios, thought it was too long.
To cut the film down, Sarnoski and his editor agreed on dividing the story into three parts (similar to Cage’s 2018 film “Mandy”). Going into “Pig” blinded is the best way to go about it and discover the tale of a man and his beloved Truffle pig for yourself. Without trying to give it away, here is the brief jist of it. Nicolas Cage’s Rob lives in a remote cabin with his beloved truffle pig, who is a master at sniffing out the rare fungi coveted by so many high end restaurateurs. Once a week, an ambitious young salesman named Amir (Alex Wolff “Old”) comes roaring up in his yellow muscle car and buys the truffles from Rob, who even barely acknowledges Amir’s presence and has no interest in making conversation.
Rob has a routine and it’s a routine that Rob will follow for the rest of his days. But one night his world is shattered when two meth heads break into his cabin in the middle of the night and steal his pig (just the sounds of that terrified squealing will break your heart). Rob learns his pig is most likely in the hands of someone in Portland and for the first time in 15 years, he’ll return to the city where he was once a legendary chef, but is now something of a mythical figure. All he wants his pig back and he’ll do anything to get her back.
Once we arrive in Portland, we follow Rob who hasn’t even bothered to clean up his wounds that were sustained at the hands of the kidnappers. He spends his journey trekking through the dark underbelly of foodie Portlandia covered in blood and dirt, oblivious to the stares of the townsfolk. While “Pig” has the set-up to be a “John Wick” style revenge actioner that replaces a kidnapped pig for a murdered dog. This is no “John Wick-ian” tale of vengeance. Instead “Pig” is a unique, original, brutal, elegant, mournful, captivating and often beautifully filmed story that mixes in the wilderness of films such as Robert Redford’s “Jeremiah Johnson”, cooking movies like Bradley Cooper’s “Burnt” and there’s even an element straight out of “Fight Club”.
According to director Michael Sarnoski, he only had 20 days to shoot the movie and was given no budget for re-shoots or delays. In an after film Q&A screening, Sarnoski revealed that the pig only had three days of training and had bit Nicolas Cage multiple times. After a particularly nasty bite, Cage joked: “I’ve been set on fire, I’ve been in flipped cars but it’ll be sepsis from a pig bite that kills me”. Through it all, he delivers a performance of subtle greatness, grabbing every inch of the screen without hamming it up in that Nicolas Cage trademark way and dominating every scene in which he has little to no dialogue. Cage is magnificent as Rob, reminding us that he’s still one of the best actors in the world.
It just goes to show the power Cage still has as an actor to be able to move us so deeply when he is asked why it means so much to him to get his pig back, when there are other pigs out there. I won’t spoil his reply but when it comes, we believe him and we want nothing more than Rob to be reunited with the one thing that he still cares about. Cage’s co-star, the growingly popular Alex Wolff both have great chemistry. Appearing in only two scenes is Adam Arkin who does scene stealing and fantastic work as the Pacific Northwest’s unquestioned king of rare foods.
“Pig” is rustic, poetic, occasionally darkly funny, heartbreaking, wonderfully strange, original and a memorable character study. It’s hard to imagine “Pig” at it’s original 2 and a 1/2 hour running time, but I’d love to see Sarnoski’s director’s cut and what he had held back. Regardless of how many movies he churns out, Cage is still a hugely powerful actor and that is all on full display in “Pig”. It is currently the highest and most positively rated Nicolas Cage film of his entire career. That’s saying something given Cage’s incredible body of work before he hit the straight to Blu Ray market. But believe the hype because “Pig” is one of the best films of the year.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4.5 out of 5)