When 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, science fiction was in the midst of a revival so huge that it hadn’t occurred in decades. This was a time when science fiction was not just a genre for geeks, but a new form of storytelling that could be seen as a legitimate alternative to the “realist” movies of the time. That was the impact of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining, released just a year after 2001. It was a genre movie in the vein of all those science fiction movies from the 50s and 60s that imagined the future.
Nicolas Cage has been acting for years, and he’s been in more than 50 films. A lot of his roles have made him famous, but he’s also been in some movies that have disappointed a lot of people. So, what will Cage do in the film industry in the year 2023? Will he be able to produce a good role in a thriller movie or not? And, if he’s able to bring us an emotional performance in one of his films, how did he achieve it?
There are few arguments more objectionable in 2023 than the claim that Nicolas Cage is a good actor. In 2023, he was known as the guy who stole the Declaration of Independence or, sadly, as the star of 20-30 little-seen and not-so-famous B-movies, but the memories of Raising Arizona, his Oscar win for Leaving Las Vegas, and even his undeniable star in the late ’90s action movies (The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off, and Chase in 60 Seconds #Everywhere) are long gone. His playing style – often extreme, crazy and loud – is rarely appreciated for what it is: charismatic, energetic and not at all easy. Maybe he uses his stunts too often to get respect, or regularly chooses obviously bad movies to showcase his talents. Either way, it’s time to put an end to this absurd argument.
In recent years, Cage has quietly returned to critical favor by starring in interesting, often abrasive independent films, winning numerous awards. Whatever you think of the films Mandy, The Color of Space or Willie Wonderland (to name a few), it will be hard to argue that Nicolas Cage’s acting is anything but perfect. So when I approached the film Pig, I thought I knew exactly what to expect from this Cage era: Hyper violence, great performances, and a wild premise that perfectly showcases Cage’s famous style of going for the number 11.
Instead, Pig asks Cage to become something radical at this point in his career: small, gritty and soulful.
Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut begins in the Oregon wilderness, where Rob (Cage) lives in a remote cabin with his beloved truffle-hunting pig. His only visitor is a benevolent, self-centered entrepreneur named Amir (Alex Wolff), who buys Rob’s truffles in exchange for a supply of food and necessities. This seemingly enduring arrangement would probably last forever if men didn’t break into Rob’s cabin one night in the dark to rob him and steal his beloved pig. What follows is the winding path of their quest that takes Rob back to the world he longed to leave behind.
You think you know how the story ends: It’s Taken, but with a pig. It’s John Wick: Para-bacon. Only Rob has left behind the world of top restaurants in Portland, Oregon, and the quest he undertakes is more reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain than John Wick. Whenever the film goes in a direction where Cage feels like he’s derailing – like during a bizarre foray into the underworld of the restaurant staff fight club – he never does. He takes the blows – both physical and verbal – and moves on.
Cage brings a raw authenticity to each of his performances, but here he stands out for his quiet sincerity.
Broken, sad, but determined, Cage’s composure illuminates each scene with raw humor and touching tenderness. On its own, this film could have succumbed to Rob’s introverted nature, but thankfully Amir, as the wolf, becomes the unlikely sidekick to the quiet loner, helping Rob find his pig and gradually revealing the mystery and meaning of Rob’s life before heading deep into the wilderness.
I don’t know if Pig is a good movie. He asks us to make too many connections in the strange, illogical restaurant world he’s created for himself, and it’s sometimes hard to know if Sarnoski wanted us to laugh at some of the dialogue, which is completely absurd. But contrary to the expectations of most people (myself included), it’s certainly not a bad movie. Cage, Wolff, Adam Arkin and the other supporting cast really enjoy the small moments between the events of the long quest. The quiet but suspenseful score by Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein underscores the film’s dark and emotional tone, and several shots by cinematographer Patrick Skoloy perfectly capture the natural Oregon landscape. To say the least, this is a strong – and certainly unique – directorial debut from Sarnoski.
Pig knows exactly what he wants to be, even if we don’t.
With a plot about how loss doesn’t just kill the person you lose, a rebuke to inauthentic and pretentious creativity, and a reminder to hold on to the memories that matter, Piggy offers a rather moving cinematic entrance in the most inappropriate places. But unintentionally, I think the film also gives us a meta-commentary on how we might see Nicolas Cage in 2023.
As Rob sits dirty and bloody in an ostentatious gastronomic palace created by a former protégé who has long preferred mainstream success to personal passion, he accuses the chef of doing what he thinks people want instead of sharing with the world what he loves best. No matter how many Mad Cage videos you collect on YouTube and how many eyes you cast on his talent, one thing will always remain true about Nicolas Cage: He has always performed in a way that suits him. And that’s what makes them authentic and unique, from Raising Arizona to National Treasure to Piggy and all the Drive Angry movies in between.
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