Directed by Michael Sarnoski.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin, Nina Belforte, Gretchen Corbett, Dalene Young, Darius Pierce, and Cassandra Violet.
A truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped.
On paper it might sound like just another entry into the growing pantheon of ridiculous Nicolas Cage-starring action flicks, but Pig, the feature debut of writer-director Michael Sarnoski, is not at all to be trifled with.
Those expecting John Wick-on-bath-salts or something close to the neon-splashed insanity of Mandy are sure to be left puzzled, if not underwhelmed by what is ultimately a sublimely restrained, frequently surprising piece of work, bearing only the most basic, superficial similarities to the aforementioned projects.
Pig is probably closer to the David Gordon Green film Joe than anything else Cage has appeared in this past decade, a solemn yet occasionally hilarious and beguilingly profound drama following reclusive chef Robin (Cage), who ventures on a quest to retrieve his beloved truffle pig after she’s kidnapped in a violent raid.
What follows isn’t so much a roaring rampage of revenge as it is a quiet, brooding character piece which sees Cage ditch the expected gun for a chef’s blade. Food is his weapon, and despite having spent many years eking out a quiet life in the Oregonian backwoods, he’s lost none of his near-supernaturally disarming culinary skills.
The story unfolds over three delineated chapters, separated with intertitles such as “rustic mushroom tart” and “a bird, a bottle, and a salted baguette,” a choice which might play as pretentious in a less persuasively serious film, yet Sarnoski’s exceptional tonal control ensures there’s never any danger of the mood escaping him or his cast.
At its core, Pig is a fascinatingly bizarre, blackly comedic plunge into the underworld of Portland’s fine dining industry, with detours ranging from underground fight clubs to encounters with meth-heads. If Sarnoski zeroes in on any one thematic, it’s surely tearing down the pompous, effete mores of high-priced restaurateurs, so keen to deconstruct and reinvent the very experience of eating as to possibly also strip the entire joy out of it.
But really, when you get down to it, Pig is a love story, of a man giving his all to get his pig back not for the sake of economic anxiety, but pangs of the heart. Inside of a tight 92 minutes – which, paradoxically, feels both casually meditative and lightning-quick – Sarnoski and Cage convincingly sell the audience on this bond.
While the initial impression of Robin might be that he’s a mythic badass, a “boogeyman” not unlike John Wick, there’s a tremendously subdued quality to Cage’s performance, saying little but wearing years of pain behind his eyes. It’s not the most common mode for Cage, admittedly, an actor so used to turning it up to 11 that he doesn’t even know where number five is.
But Cage, a curiously underestimated performer by so many contemporary audiences, is one of the most versatile and fearless actors working today, facts proven simply by his ability to utter the phrase, “Have you heard anything about a pig?” with a straight face and make it completely plausible.
Cage is marvelous in the film’s stripped down mood-setting moments, but he’s also equally shattering in his occasional heightened asides; a loaded, apocalyptic mid-film monologue is a hypnotic masterclass in control, aided by Sarnoski’s smart decision to let the camera largely linger on his leading man uninterrupted.
Watching Cage’s Robin sit in a fancy restaurant and wax philosophical on reality, nihilism, and food itself in one astonishing prolonged sequence, without ever raising his voice no less, is one of the actor’s finest arguments for doing less of his signature freakouts. But yes, fans of the patented Nic Cage tantrum get one sure memorable moment to savour.
While Cage and his missing hog light up the screen every moment they’re on it, it’d be remiss not to give enormous credit to Alex Wolff, who is a strong scene partner as Amir, a budding young restaurant vendor who purchases fancy truffles from Robin and therefore has a vested interest in helping him retrieve his pig. Wolff is wonderfully believable as a seemingly greasy-slick power-douche who actually has far more to him than appearances suggest; a character of depth with his own well-defined hang-ups, and who forges an affecting bond with Robin.
As a filmmaking debut, Pig is an uncommonly patient and restrained feat, taking ripe advantage of Patrick Scola’s gorgeously pared-down lensing, Brett W. Bachman’s tack-sharp editing, and Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein’s powerfully mournful musical score.
From the logline alone, Pig may seem like one thing, but the end result is so, so much more; a testament to the power of connections between living things – both human and animal – and also the soul-nourishing joy of a great meal cooked with love. Just make sure you don’t go see it on an empty stomach.
Nicolas Cage is on mesmerising peak form in this strange, tender, and expectation-defying character study.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.