There are any number of films competing for your attention, but for my money, the most affecting new movie is headlined by none other than Nicolas Cage, and it’s called “Pig.”
Now I’ll admit I knew next to nothing about the film, other than it stars a particularly grizzled Cage—but I knew plenty about his spate of “take the money and run” movies (which rival Bruce Willis’ output in both quantity and quality—the last emphatically not a compliment). However, “Pig” is something different, an absorbing drama about isolation, identity, love and loss—with a dollop of vengeance tossed in.
In this debut film from writer/director Michael Sarnoski, Cage plays “Rob,” a reclusive former chef who now forages for truffles in the Oregon wilderness, aided by his cherished truffle-hunting pig. His only human contact is Amir (Alex Wolff), who provides these truffles to chic, exclusive restaurants. After Rob is assaulted and his pig is stolen, he and a somewhat reluctant Amir (who has connections within the limited Oregon truffle market) set out to find who took the pig. What ensues is a somewhat mythical journey (structured in chapters) into a different kind of underworld: of fight clubs, hotel basements, dark kitchens, as we slowly learn of Rob’s earlier material success (and his legendary status as a chef) and why he has chosen to seclude himself. While these revelations may not be surprising, it all works on an emotional level, as Cage masterfully conveys Rob’s disappointment, determination, and compassion, both in his interactions and in a few finely crafted monologues. One in which he ruefully ruminates about success and compromise to a fellow chef, could practically be a metaphor for Cage’s career.
Besides Cage’s outstanding, near career-best work, the film really scores in the scenes between Rob and Alex Wolff’s Amir. Wolff’s Amir is young and eager to succeed, but also insecure and too anxious to prove himself and show off his success. Wolff’s ingratiating, energetic performance also conveys undercurrents, and allows him to serve as a perfect counterpoint to the taciturn but expressive Cage. And just when you think “Pig” will take on the familiar trappings of a revenge film, it surprises you again, courtesy of some poignant, beautifully played scenes between Cage and Adam Arkin. To sum it up, I didn’t expect much of “Pig,” but it turned out to be a haunting, rewarding film that will restore your faith in Cage and independent filmmaking. (in theaters, on demand, and streaming on Amazon)
“Reminiscence,” from writer/director Lisa Joy (making her feature film debut)is also about love and loss, only it’s set in a somewhat dystopian near-future with Hugh Jackman as an investigator who has this immersion device (apparatus?) wherein subjects can recall their past, which is projected for both Jackman and his faithful associate Thandiwe Newton (as well as for us). The subject of what will become Jackman’s obsession is Rebecca Ferguson as a mysterious would-be femme fatale who is looking to find what she has lost (a set of keys); once she (and he) is immersed in her memories, Jackman becomes hooked and of course, romantically involved—so much so, that when she disappears, and her “honor” brought into question, Jackman stops at nothing to find her. This means delving into his own memories for clues, not only about her whereabouts, but about the nature of their love. Naturally, there are your garden-variety bad guys impeding Jackman’s quest, but for this viewer, it was difficult to care about Jackman’s angst (conveyed amongst an overabundance of voiceover) or obsession. One wishes he would listen to Thandiwe Newton’s wise counsel—in fact, one wishes there was more of Thandiwe Newton throughout. She takes what is a sidekick role and turns into a layered portrayal of dedication and willful detachment—plus she gets a chance (in the film’s action highlight) to show that Jackman would be lost without her. As for the rest of this combo of neo-noir/sci-fi, “Reminiscence” is a forgettable affair indeed. (in theaters and on HBO Max)