The re-surging revenge genre has already produced an array of similar actioners, effectively an entire cinematic output summed up by the phrase “John Wick, but…” This is all fine and good. We required something outside the Marvelized action pictures that exist as an event first and a movie second. We required the reclamation of Keanu Reeves. Mirroring this rehabilitation as an action star, we’ve also experienced the reintroduction of Nicolas Cage. A late stage Nicolas Cage, who, after flourishing early on, and then having a quiet period, has returned as an actor of significant merit, an actor where you will see a movie purely because he is in it. Perhaps there is a whole secondary genre now, a Nicolas Cage revenge genre: Cagesploitation.
Nicolas Cage is an actor of several different modes. There is the Vampire’s Kiss (1988) Cage, who overwhelms the movie through sheer force of absurdity, and becomes its director. Cage can work as an actor who is too big for a picture and overrides any other creative decision, by making enough wild decisions himself, as to become the whole movie. Perhaps his most profitable but least interesting phase is his bankability as an action star. He can do The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997), and National Treasure (2004), and make it look easy. There is also auteur-advocate Cage, where his brand of zany hyper-stylized acting is a cozy match to a director with that same mentality: John Woo’s Face/Off (1997), Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy (2018), and Sion Sono’s Prisoners of the Ghostland from earlier this year. And yet, there is a fourth Cage, where the director is able to find something hidden deep within him, something motivated that explains why he must act. This is the phase that most interests me, there’s your Adaptation. (2002), Wild at Heart (1990), and the criminally underrated, and personal favorite, performance in The Weather Man (2005), a film I share a deep personal relationship to with my father (for reasons that ought to be very obvious in the frame of that movie). Is this my space to herald The Weather Man as a personal cinematic classic? It is. This is also where I share that Pig occupies that last categorization, my favorite type of Cage performance.
Yes, this is a deeply depressed Cage. He’s lost his damn pig, the titular pig, Pig. His damn truffle hunting pig is gone now. It hunted down the best truffles. The thing about truffles is that they have the same scent as human and pig pheromones. A perfect truffle will exude exactly that scent and have the strongest taste. It’s almost symbiotic, the connection between man, pig, and truffles. Cage’s character will enlist the help of his truffle buyer, Amir (Alex Wolff). The characterization of Amir is direct and precise: he’s the kind of guy who must fill his life with status symbols to fulfil a deep desire to become sophisticated. Because he is totally artless, he must listen to shows about the genius and staying power of Classical music, as though he could embody those attributes. He cannot. He is as desperate as Cage’s character, in a different way. This odd pair explores an imaginatively created Portland underground scene, trying to track down the beloved truffle pig, while also exploring the strange systems inside culinary high arts. Adam Arkin also contributes one of the year’s standout scenes, in not very much screen time.
The thing about Pig is that it is radically different from any recent picture with any idea of Revenge. You see, it’s a spiritual revenge film, one that creates a distinct underworld out of the Portland culinary scene, but does not articulate its expression through hyperbolic action, preferring punctuated understatement. It is a kind of depression cinema, a singular and outsider work, distinct among a crop of movies that all feel roughly the same. Pig is different. Its director, Michael Sarnoski, is operating outside the system. He’s making deeply personal work straight away. A bold move that means we’re left with no choice but to pay very close attention to his output from here.
Not much that happens in the movie can improve on a gruff and grumbling Cage living in the woods. Once he was a purveyor of fine foods, embroiled in the culinary world. But now, he lives the simple life. In the backwoods surrounding Portland, he has everything he needs: a pig and a pot to piss in. Easy living done the hard way. What’s most crucial about Pig is its environments. This is born of the Pacific Northwest, and has that gritty in-the-woods personality to it. It functions on the same plane as Lean on Pete (2017), Leave No Trace (2018), and First Cow (2020). These films better embody its Upper-Left American values than something as cynically spurious as the present Wickian action cycle. What that means is that this is a film spiritually tied to the land its based on. It’s grunge. It’s deep dark forests. It’s digging in the dirt for fungi. It’s a Pig. It’s spiritually about Nicolas Cage.
The problem with Pig is that you should not have read any of this. Please wipe your mind clean and go see it in the cinema. Because it deserves a fresh watch. Hopefully you have just scrolled and read this paragraph. That’s what I would have done. You shouldn’t know anything about Pig. That would ruin the surprise. The surprise that it’s going to do what you’re not expecting. That it really is a spiritually metaphorical journey through an imaginative Portland. It’s a shame to ruin the surprise of what kind of Nicolas Cage you’re getting, the most perfectly reserved kind. It would be a shame to also know that the film will probably frustrate anyone wanting John Wick. Nicolas Cage does get messed up and progressively shows the pain of his journey. But his revenge is on the entire culinary world. He will enact it through sheer will of his performance. It would be awful if you knew any of that. Hopefully you can forget and enjoy this movie on its own terms, it requires that much of the viewer. That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.