Nicolas Cage is incredible as a hermit searching for his missing truffle pig

4.5 stars out of 5.

There’s nothing left to be said about Nicolas Cage that isn’t hacky at some level. Yes, the man is prone to making left-field choices in his acting. Yes, he makes many movies a year, a good chunk of which are B-grade filler of little interest. Yes, he seems pretty self-aware of his persona. Yes, once in a while, Cage absolutely fucking knocks it out of the park in a movie that’s actually good. Truth be told, Cage has more good performances than good movies under his belt — he’s often the best part of otherwise insipid movies that might very well not have been made at all without his participation. This makes Nicolas Cage simultaneously one of the most exciting and most disappointing actors working today, because his involvement in a film tells us almost nothing about the quality of said film.

All this to say that, on paper, Pig did not sound particularly promising. Directed by a first-time feature director who has not had a directing credit in nearly a decade and starring considerably lower-wattage co-stars Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin, Pig’s summary sounds like exactly the kind of limp, slightly comic indie that might attract a star and fizzle out immediately upon release. Pig’s relative lack of promise is actually its strongest marketing feature by a country mile. If you’re even slightly interested in seeing this movie, I would suggest you stop reading this review immediately and watch Pig. This is not because of narrative-shattering twists and turns; it’s because Pig is so much better than one might expect that having absolutely no inkling of what it’s about is the best way to see it. (You might say this about a lot of movies, but it’s particularly egregious for Pig.)

Rob (Cage) lives in a ramshackle cabin in the Pacific Northwest forest. Alone with his truffle-sniffing pig, he subsists mainly by foraging for truffles that he then sells to Amir (Alex Wolff), a yuppie douchebag from the city who specializes in procuring rare foodstuffs for high-end restaurants. Rob’s quiet routine is upended one day when he’s attacked by a mysterious assailant and wakes up to find his pig gone. “Enlisting” Amir to drive him to the city, Rob starts sniffing around the foodie underground (!) in order to find who took his pig.

Right off the bat, the premise suggests something akin to John Wick. I’m not the first or the last to mention it, and much of the press around the trailer presented the film as such. Pig is not remotely anything like John Wick except, perhaps, for its somewhat heightened setting. Pig exists in a world where high-end restaurants contain underground fight clubs and Michelin chefs are treated with the hushed reverence of crime bosses. In spite of this heightening, everything about Pig is subtle — from its carefully layered storytelling that absolutely avoids blatant exposition and practically anything superfluous to Cage’s brilliantly subdued performance.

Nicolas Cage, brilliantly subdued, you say? Despite the inherent trappings of the film’s concept, Cage is thoroughly anti-Cage-rage in this role. Rob is hardly a calm guy — he’s a seething mess of cuts and contusions, as he refuses to clean any of the many wounds he sustains throughout the film, and prone to offering terse commands leaked through gritted teeth. But Pig begins with Cage as a roiling volcano of trauma and resentment that never truly boils over into what we expect from Cage. But, then again, nothing about Pig is really what I expected. It’s a somber, despairing character study with shades of First Reformed and First Cow — so far from the janky po-mo action-thriller one assumes that I spent every second riveted to the screen.

It’s hard to say how much the element of surprise actually does for Pig. Had it come from a seasoned indie auteur, I would most likely have expected it to be as good and rich as it is. The element of surprise is certainly a factor in how I describe it here, even having forewarned about spoilers. Pig is simply one of the biggest and best surprises I’ve had with a new movie in years — a truly singular and perfectly pitched film that’s uncategorizable in many ways but also accessible in so many others. It signals the arrival of a potential major talent in director Michael Sarnoski, and it confirms that, whatever you want to think of Nicolas Cage, he knows exactly what he’s doing. ■

Pig, starring Nicolas Cage, directed by Michael Sarnoski

Pig opened at Cinéma du Parc in Montreal on Friday, July 16, and is streaming now in Canada on Crave.

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