Where do you even begin with Nicolas Cage? Once a respected Oscar winning star, he’s now largely known for two things: his eccentricity, and his output. He makes an awful lot of films, most of which are low budget dross, but every now and again the intense actor makes a movie that succeeds in spite of its wacky premise. Hot on the heels of the surprising Willy’s Wonderland (Cage Vs murderous animatronics), comes a story of angst, trauma and… truffles.
Pig sees Cage play Rob, a loner who lives out in the woods with his pet pig, who is trained to seek out truffles that he exchanges for supplies from his contact Amir (Alex Wolff). His simple existence is disrupted when, in the middle of the night, his cabin is invaded and the pig stolen. Stricken, he emerges from his isolation to the streets of Portland, facing a long-buried past to find his beloved companion.
By my count, this is Cage’s 27th in the last five years. As such, you’d be forgiven for thinking this film would feature a lot of violence, and the patented Cage freak out. John Wick with pigs, if you will. Shockingly, nothing could be further from the truth, as it defies the odds to be quite a tender story of grief that absolutely refuses to be what you would expect. The peculiar opening act signals that the lunacy is about to begin, as Rob visits an underground restaurant staff fight club (don’t ask). However, debuting director Michael Sarnoski side steps us, as we learn a bit more about why Rob is so respected in the city, and what he is running away from.
It’s an unusual investigation, and as such not every risk pays off. The tone is consistently maudlin, as slowly we learn the motivations and past pain of everyone he meets along the way. This can be a bit brutal for the unprepared, as a happy ending begins to seem increasingly unlikely. This is a story about confronting old pain, rather than bringing home the bacon, and the misdirection may not be for everyone.
Those who do offer a little patience will be rewarded with one of Cage’s finer moments. Staring through greasy long hair, he shuffles on relentlessly through many obstacles, muttering “where’s…my…pig” at every turn. As the script develops, so does he, revealing more of the man beneath the mud and bruises. One scene in particular, where a filthy Cage sits in a pristine white restaurant and berates the chef, reminds you that beneath the idiosyncrasies the actor is capable of very powerful moments.
His young co-star Wolff is also on fine form as a fast-talking supplier with substantial daddy issues. He fills the silence early on, and takes care of the narrative details that allow Cage to do his thing. While only featuring in a couple of scenes, Adam Arkin is memorable as the villain of the piece, who turns out to be just as traumatised as the rest.
Like finding a truffle in the mud, Pig may be rough around the edges but offers something very different. If you only see one of the three Nicolas Cage films out this year, make it this.
Pig is in cinemas from 20 August