A Nicolas Cage appreciation and the masterful ‘Pig’
| August 17, 2021 1:00 AM
Many reviews for the acclaimed indie drama “Pig” cite Nicolas Cage’s performance as a “return to form.” Those critics are either a. Lazy or b. Unaware of Cage’s efforts in some lower profile roles in recent years.
Sure, Cage makes a lot of not-great movies, most of which skip mainstream theaters and play directly to streaming/home video. Whatever the movie, however, Cage makes choices and rarely phones in a performance. Compare his output to the sleepiness of Bruce Willis in DTV titles, and the distinction is obvious.
Take a look at two easily available recent, “low-end” Cage movies — the low-fi martial arts clunker, “Jiu Jitsu” on Netflix, and the forgettable, murderous robots slasher, “Willy’s Wonderland” on Hulu. Both movies fall short of recommendation, but Cage keeps both interesting for a while. In the case of “Willy’s Wonderland,” his character, who appears in most of the movie, never utters a single line of dialogue.
Cage’s cult status elevated with two visually arresting horror films — 2018’s “Mandy” and 2019’s “Color Out of Space.” The Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” also showcases Cage’s deft comedic timing.
Even those unwilling to tolerate DTV titles can’t write off Cage completely, as he’ll always be an Oscar winner (for the still-potent “Leaving Las Vegas” from 1995), and he dang well shoulda won a second one for his dual role in 2002’s “Adaptation.” He will also definitely go down as one of the more bizarre (but effective) action stars of the 1990s thanks to “Con Air,” “Face/Off” and “The Rock.”
“Pig,” however, should rightfully restore Cage to elite status. Simply put, it’s one of the most original and best movies of 2021. Don’t bother with the trailer, and you probably shouldn’t even read the next couple paragraphs. Just rent the movie now on video on demand. You’re welcome.
For those who need a little more convincing, “Pig” is the directorial debut of Michael Sarnoski, who co-wrote the film with Vanessa Block. Cage stars as a former acclaimed chef-turned-off-the-grid truffle hunter. When his truffle-foraging pig gets taken from him in a violent attack, he teams with a young restaurateur played by Alex Wolff (“Hereditary,” the recent “Jumanji” films) to track down the animal.
The premise sounds like “John Wick” with a pig, and Sarnoski uses that audience awareness for both humorous and dramatic effect. But “Pig” isn’t quite that, as the screenplay veers every 20 minutes or so into something else, with Cage’s haunted, passionate performance leading the movie into surprisingly resonant directions. It’s a thoughtful, detail-oriented screenplay anchored by excellent performances all around, and to say much more would spoil the charm.
The scope of “Pig” might prevent Cage from earning deserved accolades later this year, especially if Hollywood actually releases its higher-profile “Oscar bait” that have been sitting on the shelf thanks to the pandemic. Trophies or no, Cage will continue being Cage, making lots of movies, including some lousy ones, but always giving it the star effort.
“Pig,” however, is a crossover hit. You don’t need to be in the cult of Cage to love every second of it.
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Tyler Wilson has been writing about movies for Inland Northwest publications since 2000, including a regular column in the Coeur d’Alene Press since 2006. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.