Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Nicolas Cage's deep dive into isolation


     When Nicolas Cage plays a depressed man, sadness rolls off the screen like a heavy fog. 
   You'll discover this if you see the simply titled Pig, the story of an Oregon hermit who truffle hunts with a pig that lives with him in an isolated cabin in the woods. The man -- we eventually learn that his name is Robin -- treats the pig as a household pet, sharing food with the animal who sleeps in a small bed next to his.
    Initially, Pig looks as if it's going to be a strange wilderness saga about a wounded man who has withdrawn from society.
   But, no. Thieves burst into the cabin and steal the pig, presumably because premier truffles can be so valuable.
    Until then, Robin has dealt only with Amir (Alex Wolff), a young man with the demeanor of a small-time hustler. Amir acquires truffles from Robin in exchange for supplies and resells them to upscale restaurants.
    Once the pig is taken, Robin and Amir head to Portland where Robin demonstrates how determined he is to retrieve his pig.
   If you've seen some of Cage's recent work, you may find yourself thinking that you've stumbled into another revenge saga in which Robin will slow burn his way toward an explosively violent finale.
   Director Michael Sarnoski has something different in mind. He begins a journey that takes Robin from a private fight club where he allows himself to be beaten for money to an exclusive restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy. 
    Robin's takedown of the restaurant's chef (David Knell) is delivered by Cage with so much insight and conviction it's scary. 
   Questions emerge: Who is Robin? What tragedy reduced him to his current state? And what future does he have -- if any?
   Cage finally encounters the man who may be the source of his troubles (Adam Arkin). Turns out he's Amir's father.
    Cage could have loaded lines such as "I want my pig" with sneering ironies, but we don't know quite how to read a man who sees himself and perhaps the rest of the world as doomed. Cage never winks at the audience or undermines the truth of Robin's loneliness. He makes it seem like an honorable choice.
    Although some of Pig can be viewed as a satire about upscale food fetishism, it comes across as muted and doom-struck, full of felt sorrow for characters who begin to realize what their lives have become. Robin already knows. 
    Looking so grungy and battered you half wonder whether he might have been arrested for vagrancy on his way home from the set, Cage creates a memorable character, particularly when you consider the kind of notes Pig could have sounded.
    Just as important, Pig proves smart enough not to italicize every unexpected turn. Pig doesn’t earn trust by trying to make us feel better; it earns trust by not being afraid to dive deep into Cage's character and the fallen world he inhabits.

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