Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.
- Directed by Michael Sarnoski
- Written by Michael Sarnoski and Vanessa Block
- Starring Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin
- Classification R; 92 minutes
- Opens July 23 at the Yonge-Dundas Cineplex in Toronto; now playing in select theatres across Canada
There are three Nicolas Cages in this world.
For hardcore bad-movie devotees, there is the Nic (never Nicolas) Cage who cannot, will not, stop making the most dreadfully awful Z-grade trash. Movies so on-the-cheap that they can only afford one word in their titles: Rage; Arsenal; Primal.
Nic Cage No. 2 is Gonzo Cage: a man who knows just how extreme his legend has grown over the years, and relishes the opportunity to let loose in a bwahaha-woo-hoo frenzy when paired with a knowing collaborator. Think of Kick-Ass, Mom and Dad and his mid-career masterpiece, Mandy.
Nic Cage No. 3? He’s trickier to spot these days. This is the sincere and sensitive Cage – the actor who could make you feel the unbearable weight of depression in Leaving Las Vegas, or the self-flagellating neuroses of Adaptation.
Pig, the new Nicolas Cage film that caused a slight online frenzy when its high-concept premise was revealed in a trailer last month, does not neatly fit any of the above Nicolas Cage binaries. Director Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut is more like a Nicolas Cage supercut: alternately ridiculous, bare-bones, heartfelt, puzzling and what-in-god’s-name-y. And more often than not, it works.
In addition to coming equipped with the perfect title, Pig has a perfect little idea, too. The film casts Cage as Rob, a truffle hunter who lives alone in the woods of Oregon. Rob spends his days cooking painstakingly complicated dishes for no one but him and his prized porker to feast upon. Electricity and showers are frills. His only contact with the outside world comes in weekly visits from Amir (Alex Wolff), an insufferable truffle dealer who sells Rob’s aromatic wares to Portland’s finest restaurants.
All is peaceful in Rob’s world until, under the cover of darkness, someone steals Rob’s pig. Beaten, bloodied and emotionally bereft, Rob goes on a hunt to find the culprit, enlisting a reluctant Amir for help. But all you probably need to hear about Pig is this: Nic Cage seeks vengeance on those who stole his lil’ piggy.
Yet Sarnoski’s film is not the bananas journey you might expect. It is certainly, at times, intent on proving its weirdo bona fides: there is one scene in an underground fight club populated by line cooks, another in a grand mansion owned by a rare-food dealer who acts like a mob boss. But Sarnoski is also focused on the decidedly un-weird tragedy of Rob, who retreated to the woods after a celebrated restaurant career for reasons initially unknown. And there is only one living actor who could make that struggle come alive in the most affecting, skin-crawling fashion.
Although he spends much of Pig’s running time caked with blood and dressed in clothes that you can smell off the screen, Cage gives Rob an instant sheen of empathetic relatability. Against the backdrop of Pig’s half-cocked absurdism – it does get confusing toward the end whether the film’s version of Portland is real, heightened fantasy, or pure delusion – Cage offers a character who is achingly, painfully real.
As Pig nears its end, and Rob his journey to that rare personal achievement – realizing his ultimate self – the actor offers something genuinely special: a perfect performance, and one which could not exist without every other performance that the actor has ever delivered. One Nicolas Cage to rule them all. One Nicolas Cage to find them. One Nicolas Cage to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.