Nicolas Cage just turned 58 this month. For an actor who has been working for about 40 years and his own brand of acting has become infamous with over the top performances and eccentric characters, it’s a rarity to see him in the role of Robin “Rob” Feld in the surprisingly well made drama Pig.
Mention Nic Cage playing a hermit who goes on the search for his missing pig and people envision some hybrid between Blue Ruin and John Wick as his character kicks ass all over the Pacific Northwest. That’s not the case here. There’s violence but it’s only in one scene and Rob is the recipient of it.
Not to give much away but Pig isn’t what you think it is. It’s about grieving and mourning. Rob has retreated to the wilderness in the Oregon to live in a cabin off the grid. He doesn’t have a cell phone and no entertainment except for a tape player and some cassette tapes. One of those contains the recording of his late wife, Laurie (Cassandra Violet).
Rob was also at one time the most-revered restaurant chef in the Portland area if not the Pacific Northwest. Following the death of Laurie, he has retreated from society and spends his days searching for truffles with his pet pig that he only calls “Pig.” He sells the truffles to Amir (Alex Wolff), a young, hotshot supplier to the high-end restaurants where Rob is considered a legend.
One night, while thinking Pig is anxious and uneasy over the sounds of coyotes, some people break into his cabin, knock Rob unconscious and steal the pig. The next morning he goes looking for it dealing with everyone from the rural wilderness people to the high society of Portland with Amir reluctantly helping him. At one point, he runs into a chef, Derek Finway (David Knell) who used to work for him and Rob fired him for burning the pasta. During this scene, Rob deconstructs Derek in his own restaurant. It’s a very good scene and Knell is one of those character actors who has had small crucial roles in Splash and the 1990 Total Recall, it’s a delight to see him here
Rob also must come to a tense meeting with Darius (Adam Arkin), Amir’s father, and there’s hints that they’re was jealousy over Laurie. Through Amir, we learn that his parents were in an unhappy marriage and his mother committed suicide. Darius is bitter and angry at Rob. But director/co-writer Michael Sarnoski does something totally different than what one might expect from this tense relationship.
I really don’t want to say anymore about the movie’s plot except that it touches on grief and how people choose to mourn. Both Rob and Darius have lost their wives but they have taken different routes. I wouldn’t say Rob has internalized his grief. He just found out some things were more important. On the other hand, Darius, a wealthy businessman, has retreated to his own solitude in dimly lit offices where he’s consumed himself with work. And the aftermath of the suicide has led to tension between Amir and Darius.
The way Sarnoski handles the scenes work. Take an interaction between Rob and a middle-aged waitress as a roadside diner. He asks to use the phone. She asks if he’s going to order something. He just replies “no.” And she puts down the coffee pot in her hand and pulls the phone out from behind the counter. Sometimes, people just need help.
What makes this different from movies such as Captain Fantastic and Leave No Trace about men living in the wilderness off the grid is the feeling that Rob is actually happy where he is now. Sometimes in life, things happen and we suffer losses. We shouldn’t tell anyone how they choose to grieve and mourn. Some people move to other places while others stay to continue on.
We’re beginning the third year of a global pandemic and many people have suffered losses from those who died of complications. This is a perfect companion movie to Nomadland as it explores a widower and what he chose to do following the death of a spouse. It seems movies like Pig will hit harder on those who’ve lost loved ones over the past couple of years.
I don’t like to jinx Cage by saying that he’s back on top with Pig, but after string of blockbuster hits and misses in the late 1990s and 2000s, his filmography throughout the 2010s consisted of many direct-to-video movies he seemed to be in competition with John Cusack and Bruce Willis. Hollywood loves comeback stories and this could be Cage’s moment when he shows he still has it. His upcoming movie The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent looks like it might be great. Even that movie where he battled possessed animatronic animals at a restaurant got favorable reviews.
Pig may just be one of his best roles ever. Cage proves that after so many years and so many roles, he can still surprise us.
What do you think? Please comment.