Nicholas Cage, New Master of the Strong, Silent Recluse

For the longest time, Nicholas Cage was an actor of many words. His characters were often well-read, eccentric, and above all, verbose. When actors and others imitate the imitable actor, they often pull from his greatest quotes, many of them a daisy-chain of uninterrupted, unfiltered bravado, the kind of stream-of-consciousness mania that only he can channel. Fast-forward a decade or two, and he’s become something of an opposite, the epitome of silent eccentricity. The quirk remains, but he’s now an actor of very few words, often portraying characters who refuse to play by social norms or have cordoned themselves off from ordinary life in a dramatic way, all manners dispensed in order to achieve a singular goal. They speak rarely or not at all, and two films of late represent this peculiar shift in particular, one of them perhaps his greatest performance (sans Mandy) since Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, all the way back in 2002. That film is Pig, a quiet, melancholic rumination on life, death, and the myriad distractions that make life difficult to appreciate, about a truffle hunting recluse and former star chef who returns to Portland in search of his stolen pig, his best friend of many years. The other film is Willy’s Wonderland, one of a litany of B-movie projects Cage has lent his talents for in the name of paychecks and pretty high camp.

Willy’s Wonderland (HULU)

Nic Cage as a silent, leather-jacket-wearing madman do-gooder who clearly has a morbid past we know nothing about? Awesome. Chucky Cheese-esque animatronic characters that come to life, inhabited by the souls of deceased serial killers and pedophiles? I’m there for all the cheeky flair. Incompetent execution via direct-to-video quality filmmaking and a supporting cast of terrible young actors vamping it up in the worst way possible? Damn…if only it were only Cage. Willy’s Wonderland could’ve been a camp classic, and instead settles for brief DTV-style amusement, where only intermittent episodes of Cage’s lonesome overnight gig at a children’s entertainment venue provide much in the way of genuine entertainment. His knack for whoopin’ ass on these animatronic demons is a hoot until a gaggle of dumb-as-brick young’uns come looking for a fight themselves, never mind the hillbilly sheriff in on a small town-wide scheme that makes less sense the more you learn about it. Cage alone avoids a failing grade here.

Grade: D+

Pig (IN THEATERS)

Pig is not one of Cage’s myriad B-movie experiments, but instead a return to arthouse fare for the once-respected actor. He’s tremendous as a lonely outsider living on the fringes of Portland in a forest-bound cabin. As a truffle hunter, he gets by on selling them to a young, hotshot supplier (Alex Wolff) in the city, and he’s the best at finding the best truffle because he’s got the best truffle-hunting pig in town. When strangers come barging in to beat him up and steal that beloved pig, he comes out of hiding to revisit his old stomping grounds and reclaim his friend. Set in the world of upscale restaurants and foodie culture, you wouldn’t expect a film that ruminates on the meaning of life, death, and everything in between. Pig is such a film, thematically rich and deftly performed by its cast. Wolff continues to impress as the emotionally neglected son of one powerful figure in the industry (Adam Arkin), never letting us forget what drives this stunted boy to carry himself in sports cars, designer jackets, and Gucci belts. Though perhaps too melancholy and occasionally too opaque for its own good, Michael Sarnoski’s directorial debut pegs him as a filmmaker to watch.

P.S. This is not John Wick with a pig.

Grade: B+

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