Of the greatest actors to emerge after the seventies, Sean Penn, Denzel Washington, Eric Roberts, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon and a few others, the most consistently daring and risk-taking remains Nicolas Cage, who even after he won an Academy Award and every other acting award for ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ (1995), continued to take risks no other actor will, and love him or hate him, one cannot deny his courage as an actor. His problems with the IRS might have brought him to some terrible films, yet even in the worst, most horrific films, Cage manages to be enormously watchable.
His greatest performances remain his awards laden work as a doomed alcoholic in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ (1995), the twin screenwriters in ‘Adaptation’ (2002) and the OCD stricken conman in the criminally underrated ‘Matchstick Men’ (2003). As Ben, the alcoholic drinking himself to death in Vegas he won the Academy Award, critics awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critic Circle, critics awards in Boston, Chicago and Washington, the Golden Globe as well as the newly created Screen Actors Guild, in just their second year. The performance given by Cage is among the most honoured in the history of the cinema. However in the years to follow he drew sharp criticism from his peers for choosing blockbusters such as ‘Con Air’ (1997) and ‘Face/Off’ (1997) as opposed to more awards-worthy work. Yet he would venture back into challenging roles quite often, remaining relevant as an actor.
He is an actor of uncommon courage, and though what he attempts is often over the top, there is truth in every single performance he has ever given, even the strange, goofy work in ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ (1986) for his Uncle, Francis ford Coppola. It is often forgotten that Cage was once Nicolas Coppola his given name and is a part of that proud Coppola legacy, but he is, and though he changed his name to strike out on his own, he is proud of who he is and the family accomplishments. His latest performance is among the most astonishing he has even given, and of course, bizarre, perhaps even strange. Yet it is pure Cage and one cannot imagine another actor in the role.
Robin (Cage) was once a great chef, who after being traumatized dropped off the grid and out of society. He lives the existence of a hermit. alone save his truffle pig. Their day consists of searching the forest for truffles and then preparing lavish meals for just himself. His only contact with a human being is the buyer of the truffles, Amir (Alex Wolff) who shows up once a week to buy the truffles Robin has collected with his beloved pig. There is no question the relationship he has with his pig is akin to a man and a dog, he adores the pig and the animal loves him. When his precious pig is violently taken from him when two men break into his place and slam him to the ground before making off his beloved pig, Robin is heartbroken and simmers into being enraged.
His melancholy and sadness turns to indignation and then explosive anger as he searches for the men who took the valuable animal, not likely realizing the deep connection between Robin and the animal. We learn the reason for his trauma, as he mourns the loss of a woman, though we never learn what happened to her. Does he fear the same sort of deep mourning attaching itself to him if he cannot find his pig? Absolutely. And he knows it and knows he cannot deal with that type of pain again. With the help of Amir, the two men scour Portland looking for clues for where the pig might have ended up. We see that Robin is not a stranger to the world he searches within, high-end cooking and that he despises the pretentiousness of that world, with its elitist food reviews and pompous chefs. There is one magical scene where he skewers another chef for his food, surgically cutting into the man with his words like a brilliant surgeon, the verbiage wounding with each syllable. That he does this covered in his blood, his face scabbed with the healing wounds of the attack that took his pig is deeply strange, but entirely believable because Cage finds the truth in it.
There is not a moment in the film, as bizarre as it is that rings false. He is undeniably brilliant throughout the film, creating a flawed, wounded man in Robin who cannot live another day without his precious four-legged friend. Robin is deeply impacted by the theft and knows that if he cannot find his friend, grief will once again wash over him and this time he might not escape it (if he ever did). This is a revelatory performance, the purity of the acting exceptional, the wonder of the character captured in each second of the film. If Cage is not among the five nominees for Best Actor at Academy Awards time, I will be stunned and might just stop writing about the awards. Nothing less than astonishing.
First time director Michael Sarnoski has the courage and good sense to aim his camera at Cage and let the actor go. How does one direct a performance like this? So many young directors make the mistake of thinking they have to talk to their actors about every scene and moment. They do not, actors are artists and if left alone they will come up with the best things in most films. Leave them alone. I suspect he realized this early on working with Cage, which means we can expect great things from Mr Sarnoksi. ‘Pig’ (2021) is the beginning. Again watch for Cage, come Oscar time.
This is the finest performance I have seen since Casey Affleck in ‘Manchester By the Sea’ (2016). Mesmerising!
About The Author:
John H. Foote is among the best known film critics in Canada, and has been active as a critic for thirty years. His career began as co-host, co-producer of the popular movie talk and review program Reel to Real. He left the show after ten years for his first love, print criticism, he longed to write about movies. For two years he wrote for Toronto Life and Fashion Magazine, his work quote in the LA and New York Times, as well as major papers across North America. He was offered a position writing for the internet and has since wrote for incontention.com, thewrap.com, screenrant.com, awardscircuit.com and most recently thecinemaholic.com. In May, 2018 he started his own site https://Footeandfriendsonfilm.com, which has enjoyed great success its first few months. Foote was also involved in film education teaching film history and film genre at Trebas Institute before leaving to be Dean of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history and continued his work as a critic. Foote has written two books, Clint Eastwood : Evolution of a Filmmaker, and Spielberg: American Film Visionary. His third, American Cinema in the Seventies is due for release in 2020.
Through his career he has interviewed everyone in the business except Jack Nicholson.