Since sneaking on screen as Brad’s Bud in Fast Times at Ridgemont High almost 40 years ago, Nicolas Cage has forged an ironclad foothold in our pop culture consciousness with over 100 film roles to his name.

Over the past three years, he’s appeared in 10 direct-to-VOD movies, almost all of which I’ve seen and are admittedly terrible. That being said, Cage is an actor that knows when certain projects are worthy of his best. The new indie drama Pig is one of the defining examples of his career.

When the film’s trailer was released last month, depicting it as a revenge movie in which Cage’s character seems to go on a rampage looking for his lost pig, the internet was understandably alit with choruses of John Oink and “Bacon” as a swine-based swap for Taken. But those coming into this expecting Cage to ham it up will be delighted to have an entirely different kind of meal served to them.

Meditation on Masculinity

Cage stars as Rob, a reclusive forager living in the vast Oregonian woods with an affectionate and intelligent truffle-hunting pig who is always by his side. One of Rob’s only visitors is Amir (Alex Wolff), a Portland-based purchaser who drops by once a week to buy the in-demand truffles and sell them to the city’s most competitive chefs.

The value of such a potentially profitable pig is realized when Rob’s prized pet is stolen from him one night, prompting him to pair with the now disadvantaged Amir to track down the pignappers and punish them for their crimes. The journey into Rob’s former hometown unveils a specific set of skills that he possesses, but they aren’t as bloodthirsty and violent as the narrative might suggest.

As much as the marketing of Pig painted the film to have the singular focus of a traditional revenge movie, it’s about much more than that. It’s also incredibly wise about the other topics it chooses to invoke. For one, it’s a melancholic but relentlessly optimistic portrait of broken men blindly scouring the world for power and purpose in the absence of women for whom they’ve cared.

It’s a sensitive examination of toxic masculinity that doesn’t resort to having female characters chew male characters out about their indiscretions. Watching these men flail about as they try to put themselves back together is more painful than the fury behind any scornful words that could be uttered at them.

A Study of Social Identity

In the film’s meditation on man’s place in nature amid the creeping forces of commerce and capitalism, Pig echoed more of last year’s quietly moving First Cow than your typical Liam Neeson-starring vengeance tale.

“There’s nothing for you here anymore,” a suspect laments to Rob, “There’s nothing here for most of us. You don’t keep a grip on it, that’s pretty much it.”

These lines have an added layer of shattering context given the social unrest that has pervaded Portland as of late, but, taken on a more broad level, they speak to a sense of identity that urban living promises to the young and idealistic. More than anything else, the movie beautifully explores past lives, future selves, and the mess we create in between.

An actor who is frequently charged with “overacting,” Cage proves again, after his wordless Willy’s Wonderland performance from earlier this year, his best version of more is less.

His Rob is a character who seems to be hovering above these characters and this story, not in an arrogant or dismissive way, but in a way that suggests an ethereal sense of empathy. He listens intensely, and when he speaks he chooses very few, specific words to devliver the highest level of emotional impact.

Quite simply, it’s one of the best performances of his career. Sensitive and smart, Pig is a hidden gem that will reward adventurous moviegoers who choose it from the menu of uninspired selections that are offered up weekly, both at home and in theaters.

More New Movies Coming This Weekend

Playing in theaters and on HBO Max is Space Jam: A New Legacy, a sports comedy starring LeBron James and Don Cheadle which finds another basketball icon getting sucked into an animated world to play a high-stakes game of hoops.

Playing in theaters and available to rent digitally is Die in a Gunfight, a stylized update of Romeo and Juliet starring Diego Boneta and Alexandra Daddario. In this rendition, it finds a pair of star-crossed lovers flanked by a jealous ex-boyfriend and two rival families.

Streaming on Netflix is Gunpowder Milkshake, an action thriller starring Karen Gillan and Lena Headey about a mother and daughter assassin duo that are out to protect an 8-year-old girl who is caught in the middle of a gang war.