PIG
(****)-VITO CARLI

"...packs quite a wallop and it may be the best thing Cage has ever done"

Bringing Home the Bacon

(073021) Nicholas Cage was instantly successful when he exploded on the film scene with Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). He established himself as a reliable actor in such high-profile movies as The Cotton Club (1984), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Moonstruck (1987) as well as delightfully quirky little films such as Birdy (1984), Raising Arizona (1986), Vampire’s Kiss (1987), Wild at Heart (1990) and Red Rock West (1995). His career and prestige seemed to have peaked with Leaving Las Vegas (1995) for which he won a best actor award at the Oscars. From there it has been mostly downhill. In the last 25 years despite decent roles in Adaptation (2002), Grindhouse (2007), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call (2009 , and Mandy (2018), he starred in a long list of dismal duds, flops, and cinematic disasters almost all of them with excruciatingly bad scripts. This caused Sean Penn (who costarred in his debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) to correctly claim that “he is not an actor, he is more like a performer.”

If Nick Cage was in a film in the 80s or 90s, it usually meant it would be at least interesting and perhaps even special. But after decades of grinding out dozens of schlocky Z films, often taking the kind of action roles that even the bottom feeder Stallone would reject, Cage’s name on the marquee became a pretty good indication that the work is unredeemable trash.

But now out of nowhere, Cage gave an astonishingly rich and powerful performance in a little off the radar Indy film called Pig which has gotten nearly universal acclaim (97% positive reviews from critics on Rotten Tomatoes). This marvelous darkly dramatic character study packs quite a wallop and it may be the best thing he has ever done.

Robin Field (played by Cage in a strong, noble, edgy and gutsy performance) is a hermit who lives out in the Oregon woods with his pride and joy, a pig who is also his best friend. The pig is also important financially because he helps Field locate truffles which he sells to his client’s restaurants to draw customers who consider them a delicacy.

Robin used to be a respected master chef but now he only fixes his gourmet dishes for just himself and the swine. We get the feeling that he withdrew from civilization because of a great personal loss and tragedy.

One of his few contacts with humanity is Amir (Alex Wolff) a wise cracking and obnoxious young man who arrives in a limo to buy truffles. Then one day after Amir leaves, shadowy, mysterious men break in and knock Robin around and they steal his beloved pig. Is there a connection between Amir’s visit and the crime? Amir seems nice but we cannot really be sure which side he is on, and his dad (Adam Arkin) is sinister.

Although it may seem like a ridiculous analogy on the surface, the film’s basic plot is reminiscent of Dante entering the underworld in the epic poem, The Inferno, accompanied by a sidekick to locate his dead love, Beatrice. Robin takes a journey to the corrupt, crime ridden city not for revenge but to retrieve his prized swine. He is accompanied by Amir who calms Robin down and reigns him in when he gets crazy, anti-social notions. In one of the best scenes, Robin ends up pumping a former acquaintance for info who is a successful restaurant cook, and later berates him for not pursuing his dream. The film implies that one of the biggest sins is squandering immense talent or potential.

The characters, places and situations that Robin encounters are almost as weird as anything in Scorseses' After Hours. Robin participates in a Fight Club type brawl in which the participants are line cooks, and he goes to question an ex-friend, a cook, who seems to think he is a mob boss. There are some twists and all of this ends in a surprising manner that is by no means a disappointment.

The director, Michael Sarnoski shows great promise in his first solo feature film credit (he previously co-directed the TV shows Olympia and Flight Night Legacy). His non showy, straight forward style is perfect for telling this particular story. He wisely lets Cage carry the weight with his extraordinary performance.

While I think that critical pronouncements that argue Pig is the movie of the year are a bit premature (it is only July after all and we still have five more months of films), Cage’s turn as a very isolated person is an undeniable thing of beauty, and it is one of the bravest, most convincing, and unforgettable performances I have seen in long time. Without Cage’s performance, this film would vanish into nothingness, and I have a hard time imagining anyone else doing as good a job as Cage in the role. This could end up being for Cage what
The Wrestler  was for Mickey Rourke or what Burn was for Marlon Brando. It shows that a fallen acting icon still has the goods and can deliver far beyond expectations if he gets the right director, project and material.

Although some (not me) judged the script to be half baked, at a lean 92 minutes, Pig is all meat, and the film definitely brings home the bacon.
 

Directed by:    Michael Sarnoski
Written by:    Screenplay by Michael Sarnoski and Vanessa
 Block
Starring:    Nicholas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
Released:    071821
Length:    92 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for language and some violence
Available on:    At press time film is available for purchase or rental
 on Amazon, Fandangonow, Apple I Tunes, and it is
 still showing at some theatres.

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

PIG © 2021 AI-Film
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.