Nicolas Cage usually goes full tilt in his roles, and it’s what makes him so entertaining.
He seems like he’s about to spontaneously combust at any moment, and his characters often do explode, with sarcasm and rage. More often than not, the results are hilarious.
The Timothy Carey (look him up) of leading men, Cage can make otherwise terrible movies fun to watch, and when given the right material, the results can be cinematic gold. Exhibit A: his phenomenal Oscar-winning performance as the suicidal alcoholic on his last bender in Mike Figgis’ “Leaving Las Vegas.”
Michael Sarnoski’s “Pig” (R, 92 minutes, in theaters), provides the actor with the right material. The drama — about a reclusive truffle hunter tracking down his stolen pig – challenges Cage to turn his intensity inward and to contain it. He’s up to the task, and the result is one of his most powerful, heartfelt performances in a movie that gives you so much more than you might initially expect.
Cage plays Robin Feld, a hermit whose sole companion is his pig, who lives with him in a shack in the Oregon woods and sniffs out truffles for him on their hunts. Robin’s contact with other humans is relegated to weekly visits from Amir (Alex Wolff), a young wheeler-dealer involved in the truffle supply business.
That isolation is interrupted when kidnappers invade Robin’s shack, attack him and steal the pig. Determined to retrieve the animal, Robin ends his self-imposed exile and, with help from a reluctant Amir, returns to his former home of Portland in his search. While there, Robin is forced to confront a past he has long tried to forget.
It’s this aspect of the story — along with the compelling performances of Cage, Wolff and Adam Arkin, who plays Amir’s powerful (and dangerous) father — that makes “Pig” particularly fascinating. At first, you might expect it to turn into a Liam Neeson-type don’t-mess-with-me-or-my-loved-ones action film. If that’s what you want, prepare to be disappointed. “Pig” is more focused on examining the complexity of human emotions, the power of the past, dealing with loss, and the choices and concessions we make in life.
Its themes and messages aren’t obvious; the film challenges the moviegoer to wrestle with them and come up with one’s own interpretations. It’s worth the effort. ***½ (out of four)
More on Nicolas Cage
Cage has stayed busy since breaking into film in the early 1980s; his IMDb.com entry lists 108 acting credits. Here are 10 of my favorite Cage films/performances, including some sleepers:
1. “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995). Cage at his best, as a Hollywood screenwriter who has given up hope. Elisabeth Shue also is outstanding (and earned an Oscar nomination) as a prostitute who befriends him.
2. “Birdy” (1984). Two friends (Cage, Matthew Modine) return from the Vietnam War with different types of devastating wounds. Cage is at his most sensitive and heartbreaking.
3. “Matchstick Men” (2003). Cage plays a con man with psychological issues in this smart dark comedy from director Ridley Scott, also starring Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman.
4. “World Trade Center” (2006). Cage and Michael Pena star in this intense Oliver Stone drama about police officers trapped in the debris of the World Trade Center towers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
5. “Pig” (2021). See above.
6. “Guarding Tess’ (1994). Cage is a no-nonsense Secret Service agent assigned to protect a difficult widowed former first lady, played by Shirley MacLaine. Cage essentially is playing straight man for MacLaine here, and they make a formidable comic team.
7. “Honeymoon in Vegas” (1992). Cage, James Caan, Sarah Jessica Parker and a skydiving team of Elvis impersonators appear in this offbeat comedy about a private detective who pays a heavy price in a poker game. Featuring one of Cage’s funniest performances.
8. “Red Rock West” (1993). Cage plays a drifter mistaken for a hit man, and Dennis Hopper is the real killer, in this offbeat neo-noir from director John Dahl.
9. “The Family Man” (2000). In this sweet-natured romantic comedy/fantasy, Cage is a single, career-driven Wall Street exec who wakes up on Christmas to discover he’s now living in suburbia as a car-tire salesman with a wife (Tea Leoni) and kids.
10. “Kick-Ass” (2010). The only film of these 10 in which Cage has a supporting role. He plays costumed vigilante Big Daddy, who with his young daughter Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) joins forces with new crime-fighter Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). An action comedy that’s twisted, ultra-violent, and very funny (if you’re sick enough, which, clearly, I am).
Ten other significant Cage flicks worth checking out (in chronological order): “Racing With the Moon” and “The Cotton Club,” 1984; “Peggy Sue Got Married,” 1986; “Raising Arizona” (Cape music critic Bill O’Neill’s favorite movie!) and “Moonstruck,” 1987; the deranged “Vampire’s Kiss,” 1988; “Wild at Heart,” 1990; “It Could Happen to You,” 1994; “Adaptation,” 2002; “The Weather Man,” 2005.
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org (archived shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/ ) . He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.
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