Despite being one of the most gifted and certainly the most original actors of the past half-century, Nicolas Cage has spent the past decade becoming more of a meme than a man, carving out the kind of erratic career that tends to draw for himself. the worst kind of fandom: smug rubber gleefully anticipating the former Oscar winner’s last “bonkers” turn.
Perhaps it’s because Cage has inhabited so many grizzled men with vengeance in straight-to-video titles that his new film, Pig – about a truffle-hunter forester whose pigs are kidnapped by vile restaurateurs – seems ready to go. play straight into those narrative expectations: John Wick for shaggy artisan foodies, perhaps.
Still, the pleasant surprise of Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut is how much he subverts those tropes, avoiding the maximum body count for a slow, dark burn that’s all the more effective for his melancholy, existential discomfort.
Revenge isn’t just served cold here, it’s wrapped in ice and set out on an open-air arctic platter.
Somewhere deep in the woods of Oregon, Cage’s bearded and stringy-haired loner, Rob Feld, moves through the wilderness like a prehistoric tramp, his only companion a marmalade-colored truffle pig who helps sniff his skinny. life and soothe his troubled soul. (There’s a whole buddy movie waiting to be made about the adventures of these two.)
Rob was once a celebrity chef and has since retired to a log cabin, where he spends his days stoically baking pies and leaning over a tape recording of a long gone lover, probably one of the reasons for his self-imposed isolation.
Rob’s only visitor is Amir (Hereditary Alex Wolff), an unemotional young restaurant shopper who shows up to collect his loot and serve as a heinous character counterpoint: sporting a mustache, a mustard-yellow Camaro, and cocky knowledge of hangouts. Cool Portland, he’s a culinary impostor as a slimy Coachella executive, desperate to prove his cultural hiding place.
It’s clear which side of the lifestyle division Sarnoski sits on, before things even turned sour – or should he be a sower – when a group of dark goons barged in late at night and that Piggy Sue is taken to Portland, leaving Rob bruised and bloodied and without his only friend.
When the chef wakes up, peeling off the ground to which his head injury stuck him, you can almost smell the aroma of revenge baked in the clay oven, a ready-to-roll version of Cage: Pig in the City. .
Enlisting Amir as a reluctant driver, Rob enters Portland in search of the pignappers, scouring the dive bars and old hotels that cinematographer Patrick Scola films as if they’ve been immersed in a vat of craft beer.
In this familiar hell, everyone Rob meets seems to regard him as a ghost, a past returning to haunt them.
But although Rob has a penchant for growling “I want my pig” like a mantra foreshadowing a bloodbath, Cage and Sarnoski slowly but surely deflate his quest for revenge, releasing the physical tension of the film and putting audiences on the wrong foot. in a smart way.
In a pivotal first scene, Rob materializes in an underground fight club with echoes of the infamous Bumfights, where the former Grand Chief – seemingly prepared for an explosive confrontation with his opponents – prepares to undergo brutal punishment, absorbing all of them. the misfortune and wickedness of the environment like a disheveled pacifist monk.
Pig’s dismal pace is unlikely to appease an audience hoping for a rampage from Savage Cage, the genre that fueled the tense madness of his revenge song Mandy, or saw the actor hit a low earlier this year as a animatronic-mascot-pounding figure in Willy’s Wonderland.
Cage’s method of retrieving here isn’t fists, guns, or Just for Men, but something far more withered: a thousand-yard gaze and the haunted wisdom of a man who has been arguing with nature for ever. 15-year-old casually dropping frightening existential tirades that leave opponents unraveling.
With his earth-colored rags and blood-spotted beard the color of autumn leaves, it’s as if Rob has been called out from the landscape himself to lay bare the hell of fusion restaurants hawking bespoke experiences. , rambling – in an eerie amusing way – over earthquakes and tidal waves and the city reverting to pristine dust.
On occasion, the film exaggerates the character’s authenticity, suggesting a false reality as artificial as the culture it seems to denigrate: in one scene, Rob delivers an exciting life to a smooth chef who would be more believable if the latter didn’t. did not. sound like a corporate villain from an ’80s comedy – hardly the kind of culinary artisans that patrons might flock to a hot Portland joint.
But the moment Pig meets his latest boss, a sinister figure who lives in a Portland mansion and arrogantly proves himself resistant to Rob’s piggy pleas, the payback is as delicious as any exploding head or impaled villain. .
Most of that wouldn’t simmer like it does without Cage, who delivers one of his best performances in recent memory, and it’s a pleasure to see a filmmaker willing to resist the easy and trust the ability. of its actor to be underestimated. Freed from its much parodied tics and mannerisms, Cage proves it has aged less like fine wine than old whiskey – flavored here with hints of Oregon wood and the Pacific Northwest breeze.
With Pig, he shows us that sometimes the best we can do is just to be mindful, to show a little empathy – even to those who aren’t crawling.
Pig is in theaters now.