His acting often unfairly reduced to gifs and slogans, Cage puts in a profoundly moving turn as the bereft owner of a kidnapped truffle pig in Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut
à toi: Michael Sarnoski. Mettant en vedette: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin. Cert 12A, 92 minutes
I’ve become conflicted about the ongoing memeification of Nicolas Cage. All these internet compilations of him howling “How’d it get burned?” or “I’m a vampire!", clipped from scenes in The Wicker Man ou alors Vampire’s Kiss sont, on one level, small celebrations of his unparalleled audacity as an actor. Very few could deliver a scene like the closing moments of 2011’s Drive Angry, where Cage chugs beer out of an enemy’s bloodied skull with the lackadaisical resignation of a dad at a Little League baseball game.
But it all comes at the risk of reducing him to a punchline – and that breeds far too many sincere accusations that he’s a terrible actor. I can only hope that Pig, his latest project, will put a few of those disbelievers in their place. Cage isn’t a maximalist for the hell of it. He is someone who remains unwaveringly, fiercely present in each of his performances. When he describes his acting style as “Nouveau Shamanic”, it’s not just about forging a connection to a character, but inviting that character to possess his body and soul. Et Pig is a beautiful demonstration of what that nuance looks like when it’s properly deployed by a talented director.
Writer-director Michael Sarnoski, here making his feature debut, is particularly ingenious in the way he toys with the public’s expectations of Cage as a performer. Pig, in its opening scenes, appears to set itself up as a traditional revenge thriller, albeit with a small twist – imagine Taken if Liam Neeson wasn’t trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter but his kidnapped truffle pig.
Cage plays Robin “Rob” Feld, a former Portland chef turned recluse, who’s boarded himself up in a woodland cabin with nothing but his porcine bunkmate for company. Once a week, he receives a visit from supplier Amir (Alex Wolff), who’ll take any truffles he’s collected and sell them off to the city’s high-end restaurants. Mais, une nuit, Rob is assaulted and his pig is taken from him. Early on, Sarnoski hints that Rob may have suffered a terrible loss and that his only means of survival is to remove himself entirely from the world that so deeply wounded him. That pig was all he had left – and he’ll do anything to get her back.
The expectation here, bien sûr, est-ce Pig will be another Cage-branded descent into madness. And while it carries with it a near-constant tension that Rob may, at some point, finally explode, what Cage really brings to the role is that sense of profound connection – one that here evokes the wordless but sacrosanct relationship that a person can have with the food that they eat or cook.
Pig is at its very best during its scenes of food preparation, as Sarnoski allows his film to quiet down to a whisper. Cage’s Rob may be half-hidden behind his mountain-man beard, straggly hair, clotted blood (from the attack, which he never thinks to wash off), and dishevelled clothes, but it only brings greater attention to how lost and soulful those crystal-blue eyes can look. It’s a quality that’s rarely been taken advantage of since his early days as the Eighties dream boy of Peggy Sue Got Married et Valley Girl.
Pig may belong to Cage, but it doesn’t work solely because of him – and he’s found an excellent scene partner in Wolff. The former Nickelodeon star has transformed his career by subverting expectations and chasing darker, more adventurous projects like My Friend Dahmer et Hereditary. Over time, he’s carved out an impressive niche for himself, mastering a specific kind of sweaty desperation barely concealed by twitchy confidence – exactly the personality you’d imagine for an upstart truffle supplier. Pig shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone who’s been following these men’s careers, but it’s a perfect reminder of how easily we can underestimate people.