Pig ★★★★½

PIG subverts every possible expectation you might have upon hearing "Nicolas Cage as a hermit searching for his kidnapped pig." His days as a box-office draw far in the rearview, Cage has a habit of starring in one really good under-the-radar movie every year or two--JOE, MANDY, MOM & DAD, COLOR OUT OF SPACE--amidst an endless pile of interchangeable and instantly-forgotten Redbox-ready garbage, most recently with miserable duds like JIU JITSU and WILLY'S WONDERLAND. He tends to give the fans the "crazy Nic Cage" act (like his "BEEF?!" rant from A SCORE TO SETTLE--I had to look up the title because they all blur together) because that's what they want, and while it's entertaining, it's also made him a punchline, and even I'm guilty of taking cheap shots, like a period where I consistently referred to him as "former actor Nicolas Cage."

But every so often, a JOE or MANDY comes around to remind us that Cage is one of the most unique talents of his generation, and PIG is his best performance...maybe ever. It's best to go in knowing as little as possible, other than what the trailer shows you: Cage is Robin Feld, a loner hermit living completely off-the-grid deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. His only companion is Pig, his truffle-hunting pig who tracks down the delectable fungi, which Robin gives to Amir (Alex Wolff), a culinary sales rep from Portland who visits him once a week with canned goods, batteries, and other bare necessities in exchange. Robin's solitary existence is ruined when some people break into his shack in the middle of the night, beat him unconscious, and steal Pig, who's hauled away squealing in fright.

At this point, any typical Nic Cage movie would have him going full backwoods John Wick in a rampage of vengeance to find Pig. But PIG doesn't do that. Robin makes Amir drive him to Portland. He has a good idea where Pig is, but it requires him to enter an occasionally strange world that he abandoned over a decade ago. But who is Robin Feld and how did he get here? Debuting writer/director Michael Sarnoski doesn't offer easy answers. Robin looks disheveled and homeless, and he refuses any medical attention for his bruises and the blood caked on his face. But as he re-enters his past life in Portland in what can best be described as a culinary underworld, maitre d's pause and take a few seconds to recognize him and suddenly look like they've seen a ghost. Amir throwing out the name "Robin Feld" causes top chefs to stop dead in their tracks. Robin doesn't want to catch up and he doesn't want to make small-talk. He has only one question and he wants an answer: "Where is my pig?"

PIG is a reminder of what a special talent Cage is and how long he's been squandering it. But Wolff (HEREDITARY) is also given a compelling, multi-layered character to play, and Adam Arkin manages to make an indelible impression with just two scenes. Joe Multiplex is gonna hate PIG (Neon released it, but it almost feels like an arthouse A24 mainstream pisser-offer in disguise), but it's a melancholy, meditative and richly-rewarding character study that's the most original and genuinely unpredictable thing out there right now.

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