November 6, 2021 – Nicholas Cage always brings a kind of insane intensity and energy to any character he plays on screen, even in movies that are poorly written and directed, and he's been in plenty of those. In this drama, he has more to work with — a well-written character in a well-directed movie, and he again shows what a great performance he is capable of.
Writer-director Michael Sarnoski, along with co-writer Vanessa Block, have given Cage a meaty character, Robert Feld, an emotionally wounded former chef, living, hermit-like, in the jungle-like forests of the Pacific Northwest. There, he makes a modest living by selling truffles he finds with the aid of his pet pig. His only contact with the outside world seems to be a young man named Amir (played by Alex Wolff of “Bad Education”) who barters food and other necessities with Feld (AKA Rob) for his very valuable truffles. This is a very lucrative arrangement for Amir.
One night, thieves break into Rob's cabin, beat him and steal his pig. Amir reluctantly gives Rob a ride into Portland, Oregon to help Rob find his pig. What ensues is a journey of discovery as Rob uses his old connections to track down the pig thieves, while at the same time revisiting places where he used to live and work.
This story reminded me of “The Swimmer” (1968) in which a man (played by Burt Lancaster) gradually confronts the demons of his past during a journey through a series of swimming pools. The big difference between that emotional journey and the one in “Pig” is that Rob has already come to terms with his past, while Ned Merrill (Lancaster) began his journey in denial.
Indeed, the defining feature of Rob is that he has made his peace with his past and will calmly call out any pretense. Part of his world view is apocalyptic. He speaks at length about the looming megathrust earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis that could destroy Portland. This is because Oregon and Washington coastal areas lie along the Juan de Fuca Plate and Cascadia subduction zone. The last such large seismic event was in the year 1700, and another one may happen soon.
Because of this apocalyptic view of things, and his rejection of material wealth, he seems to have only one goal, and that is to recover his beloved pig. This single-minded desire confuses everyone he comes in contact with in his quest, including Amir. Everyone assumes that Rob is motivated by the thing that motivate most people, money and the things money can buy. That is not the case here.
Rob is a fascinating character. A man of quiet courage and dignity, he imparts a kind of wisdom to others that is universal. That is because he, unlike most people, has come to terms with the utter finality of death. This eventually becomes clear during the course of the movie. Amir serves as our guide, gradually learning more about Rob, himself, and his own family, as the deeper layers of their lives are revealed.
The setup of this plot is deceptive. Just as it looks like the story is headed in a familiar direction, it turns out to be headed down a different path. Cage gives a powerful performance. Also good are Alex Wolf and Adam Arkin, who plays Amir's father. David Knell gives a fine performance as Derek Finway, a chef who has sold out his dreams in exchange for more money. This is one of the best films of the year. It rates an A.
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