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),
(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
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
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
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.