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Nicolas Cage carries ‘Pig,’ but this dull thriller doesn’t go anywhere interesting or intriguing

Summary List PlacementBack when I was a student, I used to know a young man who liked to talk about truffles. In fact, he was obsessed with truffles. Regardless of the topic of discussion, he would find inventive ways to insert the useless fact that he loved to eat truffles. But he took the most pride in quizzing others on whether they had ever tried truffles. Alongside the staggering and frequent declaration that "his father made a lot of money from the 2008 financial crash," this obsession was, of course, that young man's attempt at posturing. Truffles are an expensive, luxury...

A picture of Nicolas Cage in the film

Summary List Placement

Back when I was a student, I used to know a young man who liked to talk about truffles. In fact, he was obsessed with truffles. Regardless of the topic of discussion, he would find inventive ways to insert the useless fact that he loved to eat truffles.

But he took the most pride in quizzing others on whether they had ever tried truffles. Alongside the staggering and frequent declaration that “his father made a lot of money from the 2008 financial crash,” this obsession was, of course, that young man’s attempt at posturing.

Truffles are an expensive, luxury delicacy, which to him held certain clout or social capital. This is the world Nicolas Cage has tried to escape in his new indie thriller “Pig.” 

The film — which is co-written and directed by newcomer Michael Sarnoski — finds Robin (Cage) living a simple life with a truffle-hunting pig somewhere within the vast woodland outside Portland, Oregon, where they spend their days foraging for prized truffles in the deep forest. 

Occasionally, they are visited by the young, slick, but troubled Amir (Alex Wolff) who buys what they find. However, one evening everything changes when intruders arrive, assault Robin, and steal his pig. When he regains consciousness, beaten and covered in blood, he hobbles back towards society in search of the attackers.

Yes, this base revenge synopsis sounds suspiciously similar to recent hits like Keanu Reeves’s”John Wick” series, the popular “Taken” franchise, or even Cage’s own recent psychedelic hit “Mandy.” But “Pig” takes far less interesting turns in this cute attempt at weighty filmmaking by Sarnoski. 

What’s hot: Nicolas Cage, of course

A picture of Nicolas Cage in the film

Cage is the glue that holds the razor-thin narrative in “Pig” together.

His character, Robin, is a trudging, emotionally bruised man who is plagued by trauma from his past. He is also a man of very, very few words — we don’t hear Cage speak to another person until around the 15-minute mark. But Cage’s shadowy physical presence remains compelling throughout and often lifts the dull dialogue he has been provided. 

Cage’s withdrawn demeanor also gives the film a welcome injection of suspense. While the narrative plods from one theme to the next, failing to raise either the emotional or metaphysical stakes or intrigue with its simple ideas about grief and food, I started to wonder whether the film was building up to a big, chaotic sequence made for Cage — the kind that has become his trademark in recent years.

This chaos never arrives, and the filmmakers almost certainly shaped their film around this character-actor subversion, which other filmmakers have successfully deployed elsewhere.

In his masterful 2002 film “Punch-Drunk Love,” for example, Paul Thomas Anderson cast Adam Sandler as Barry Egan, a hopeless salesman plagued by his inability to navigate the social world around him. And through inventive camera framing and abstract dialogue, Anderson traps the violent, boyish outbursts that Sandler made famous in comedies like “Happy Gilmore” and “Big Daddy” and interrogates them against issues of gender and sexuality: He delivers a compassionate critique of Sandler through Sandler. 

But in “Pig,” Cage’s casting is perfunctory and unconvincing. For all the film’s air of breaking new ground, it is simply trodding down familiar furrows.

The bottom line: Even with Cage’s strong performance, ‘Pig’ isn’t worth your time

A picture of Nicolas Cage in

It has been interesting to read some of the glowing reviews “Pig” has received from critics. Most of the promotional material for the film in the UK, where I live, has led with the fact that this film is Cage’s best-reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes. The film currently sits at 97% on the popular aggregator site.

And much like my old chum’s affinity for truffles, for some critics, the mere fact that Cage has toned down his blockbuster bravado, and that the film’s pace is meditative rather than specifically plot-driven, signaled some sort of intellectual success. A review of the film in The Atlantic by writer David Sims was even titled “The Highbrow Return of Nicolas Cage.” 

I have written extensively elsewhere for Insider about the worrying trend in contemporary American independent cinema of filmmakers simply plunking what has been deemed as “prestige” aesthetics, such as tangential plotting and glacial pacing, on top of vapid, soulless stories, and “Pig” is another entry on that list. This time, however, many of my colleagues in the media seem to have been duped or are simply indifferent to the artifice. 

It is true, as Stanley Kubrick supposedly once said, that the “least effective and least enjoyable way” to communicate ideas and emotions in cinema is directly. If a filmmaker can frustrate interpretation, resist paraphrase, and push an audience to truly ponder a film’s themes, “the thrill of discovery goes right through the heart.” 

Conversely, if a film’s structure is challenging and unconventional, but there is nothing else there, one leaves the cinema annoyed and out of pocket.

The only thing I left “Pig” thinking about was whether any animals were harmed during the making of the movie.

“Pig” opened in UK theaters on Friday and is currently available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime Video in the US.

Grade: C

 

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