When it comes to expectations, be sure to leave them at the door when watching Nicolas Cage’s latest, “Pig.” It’s a film that subverts just about every expectation you might conjure after reading the log line, so why bother?
After his truffle pig is stolen, Rob (Cage) must leave his life of seclusion in the Oregonian wilderness and confront his past to find his kidnapped swine. That’s all you really need to know about this film, and if that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will.
Two decades after Cage lived high on the hog in the ’90s he has become less and less synonymous with the action blockbusters of years past, and has recently been more suited starring in direct to video B-films. He has had a few brief glimpses of his glory days with recent cult hits like “Mandy” and “Color Out of Space,” but those are few and far between now. With “Pig,” the one-time Academy Award winner is back in top form with one of the best and most nuanced performances of his career. If he continues to seek out these kinds of roles and performances, the Nic Cage renaissance will be a welcome sight.
The film itself has a very measured pace about it. Much like last year’s “First Cow” – also set in the Pacific northwest – there is a certain deliberateness in the filmmaking that gives a much more personal touch. Whereas “First Cow” takes place in the 1800s, “Pig” brings the same energy and themes, but in present day. Greed and capitalism never go out of style, and the two bringing down the working man is just as relevant today as it was in the 19th century. Within Rob’s secluded life, one thing he has is time, and the filmmakers take the time to show him living his life, searching for and gathering truffles, and caring for his pig.
Instead of an action-packed revenge thriller – which would make total sense considering Cage is at the center – director Michael Sarnoski opts for a quiet and subtle approach, centering on Rob’s reasons for leaving the city while he searches for his pig. As the real-life world becomes more and more connected, the speed in which information is gathered and digested is breakneck. There is no more time for enjoying things as they come, like the art of creating a meal or the joy of smelling the ingredients coming together. Now it’s all about getting it onto the plate as soon as possible and posting it on social media. That’s not the case here, as “Pig” slows things down and allows viewers to experience the emotions without being distracted by speed and excess, like CGI gun fire and choreographed fight scenes.
As the film progresses and the search becomes more frantic, there are certain revelations that will keep the audiences invested. However, returning to the idea of subverting expectations, the key scenes in this film are quiet and contemplative. What’s the opposite of a crescendo? I ask that in the best way possible.
First-time narrative feature screenwriters Vanessa Block and Sarnoski are able to tap into that American frontier aesthetic and explore the forgotten value of unplugging and slowing down. When Rob starts to uncover the truth, the film stays true to its heart and doesn’t “unleash” Cage as you would expect. There is a certain brilliance to Cage’s acting. When films have a well-known lead actor famous for overacting and hamming it up, it could be easy to see Cage go off the deep end, yet the actor holds back here and it’s impressive to watch.
Rounding out the cast is Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin, both of whom play well off of Cage’s quiet performance. This being Sarnoski’s first feature length film as both a writer and director it is quite a feat to not only get such a great performance out of Cage, but also craft a very compelling and watchable film that is perfectly paced. If this is what we can expect from his first outing, he will definitely be one to watch.
“Pig” releases in theaters July 16, 2021.
Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA