Our cultural osmosis has done a great disservice to Nicolas Cage. For years, Cage has been unfairly maligned for a perceived lack of subtlety, with many of his critics whittling down his technique to nothing more than rage and ravings. And over the past 10 years, the meme machine and YouTube montages of him going ballistic have done little to halt this unjust reputation. It's something that irks me, because not only does it divorce his grander moments from the context of their overall performance, but it also dismisses a truly enigmatic screen presence.
Nicolas Cage is my favourite actor because he treats film performance like a jazz musician. He would much rather be a revolutionary before ever being a traditionalist. For his turn in 'Peggy Sue Got Married', Cage decided the best way to portray a high school jock was to give him a nasal voice reminiscent of Pokey from 'The Gumby Show'. It was a choice that almost got him fired, but proved to be an endearing approach that poked at the façade of high school popularity. Throughout his oeuvre, whether he be brazen or tender, Cage always finds an immersive angle to each role he plays - and in 'Pig', his latest project, Cage isn't just good. He is goddamn transcendent.
Cage portrays Rob, a recluse truffle hunter living in the Oregon woods with his pig. The only person he interacts with is Amir (Alex Wolff, 'Hereditary'), a young and overweening supplier to Portland's restaurant industry, to who Rob sells his truffles. One night, Rob's cabin is broken into by a pair of unknown assailants who beat him before stealing his pig. Seething with anger, Rob vacates his quiet existence for an odyssey to find his missing pet. He makes his way to Portland, with Amir driving him from place to place. But the further their quest takes them, Rob and Amir have to reckon with the grief that absorbs them both.
Based on that synopsis, I'm sure many would anticipate 'Pig' to be another vehicle for Cage to exercise his manic tendencies. Enough people have drawn parallels to the 'John Wick' series to justify these expectations. Yet, even though it echoes the hallmarks of your standard revenge fare, 'Pig' is far more than just a tale of wrath. It is a haunting meditation on the things we care about and the importance of preserving their sanctity.
'Pig' is a film brimming with thematically rich ideas. It's a story that wishes to convey the importance of artistic expression and how easily it can be compromised in favour of something more commercial. Equally, it aims to explore the nature of grief and its varying effect through the viewpoint of several characters. For his first feature, director Michael Sarnoski explores these notions with a gentle precision. As a whole, the film is beautifully composed, with the narrative moving like poetry as it unfolds with near lyricism. The screenplay, which Sarnoski co-wrote with Vanessa Block, consistently imparts profundity. For all its genre trappings, it's remarkable what 'Pig' has to say and just how elegantly it portrays its heavy concepts.
Central to that success is the mesmerising performance from Nicolas Cage, who delivers some of the finest work of his career. Cage is far more understated here than many would predict; think more his role in 'Joe' as opposed to 'Mandy'. Cage's character carries a lot of sorrow, and he exudes this via a weariness in his eyes. He is mournful without being defeated. Every element of this performance is delicate, and when Cage is given a monologue, his words tear shreds. It's raw and soulful work that recognises the value of minimising expression without neglecting physicality. Cage and his character intersect as an enigma, almost otherworldly, creating something both immediately human and quietly majestic. He is a marvel to watch here.
Cage and his character intersect as an enigma, almost otherworldly, creating something both immediately human and quietly majestic.
The connection between actor and role is a case of life imitating art. Cage's career of late could be described as hermitic. Aside from the occasional appearance in a blockbuster or independent smash, he has largely been relegated to a plethora of straight-to-video titles, and a lot of run-of-the-mill thrillers that don't ask much of his talents. 'Pig' is refreshing because it allows a talent like Cage to go full force. He has strong chemistry with Alex Wolff, with the film functioning as a buddy picture of sorts, and the interplay between the two is riveting. The pair have to shoulder a lot, but they never lose sight of the film's soul.
Put simply, 'Pig' absolutely floored me. It moves with symphonic rhythm, balancing a bevy of well-realised themes. And as a piece of vengeance cinema, it was welcome to see the subgenre explored with such potently human nature. 'Pig' explores our dreams, our pain, and our disparity when what we love is jeopardised, and it is rewarding to consume. Although personally, the most rewarding aspect is seeing the tour de force on display from Nicolas Cage. Come awards season, it's a performance that deserves to be in the conversation. In his ever-evolving career, 'Pig' is the latest film to showcase the pure magic of Nicolas Cage, and few things make me smile more.