Title: Pig Director: Michael Sarnoski Writers: Vanessa Block (story), Michael Sarnoski (story) Stars: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
A truffle hunter who lives alone in the wilderness must return to his past searching for his stolen pig. Pig almost sounds like some sort of cheap John Wick knock-off starring Nicolas Cage. It is not. If you are expecting action, you will be disappointed.
Meet Rob (played by Nicolas Cage) and his truffle pig. They live deep in the Oregon wilderness. His only contact with humanity comes with a kid named Amir (played by Alex Wolff) who comes to Rob to buy his truffles, an exchange Rob handles with gruff reserve. It is quickly revealed that Rob is trapped by the pain of having lost a loved one.
We have seen this setup before. Sure, the colors are nice, the audio is surprisingly intimate, but we have seen this before… right? There is just one odd thing, Nicholas Cage does not act like any other movie I have seen him in the last decade. There is nothing exaggerated; the cheesy bravado is gone, and in that lies the magic of the movie.
A Stolen Pig
The truffle pig is soon stolen, forcing Rob and Amir to go search for it. This journey takes the pair through an underground network of chefs and restaurant suppliers in Portland, with secret codes, underground fighting arenas, and snobbery.
It is revealed that Rob used to be a big name before he mysteriously left the city. “I remember a time when your name meant something to people, Robin,” comments the first person he sees upon his return to Portland. “But now? You have no value. You don’t even exist anymore.”
All of this reads more like a John Wick wannabe than anything else, but Pig is something completely different. The movie refuses to take the easy way out, with Cage raising his fists and turning this into a shirtless feast of machismo. Instead, we are treated to a coming-of-age story with a story that is more about facing your own pain instead of fleeing from it. For Amir, it is about coming to grips with his own family. For Rob, it is about being able to continue his way of life. Both men must struggle with loss in their own ways.
The Strangeness that is Cage
Cage’s performance is a three-star Micheline meal of sadness, with a desert of repressed despair and rage. The combination almost feels martyrlike, something he pulls off without missing a step. There is not even a hint of anything but the genuine in his performance. When he cooks, it’s like the act of searing mushrooms fills him with inner quiet.
In interviews, Cage has said he took the role to remind people that he could act. We have often joked about many of Cage’s over-the-top, scenery-chewing roles in the past decade. Has the Cage we have seen in these films been his evil twin? Where have the real Cage, the one who can act in this caliber, been hiding?
Cage’s rough-looking Rob matches well with the almost baby-faced Alex Wolff, letting the movie balance out the emotional hardships with scenes of this borderline comical duo – the hermit and the yuppie. But some scenes, especially one set in a fancy restaurant, with Rob’s blood-stained and thorn clothes, and Amir’s popped collar and silk shirt, end up taking more away from the film than it gives. Even more so when Rob dishes out the truth to a chef that has lost his way.
There are other scenes that feel tacked on, added only because director Michael Sarnoski (also the co-writer) was too much in love with them. There are one-liners that add nothing to the story other than sounding cool. Pig was significantly shortened in post-production to the version that was released. I was not left wanting more, but rather terrified of how much damage to an otherwise great film another 30 minutes could have done. Not even a morbid curiosity would make me want to watch a longer “director’s cut”.
Pig‘s pairing of the visual and the audible is like the pairing of fine wine and a good meal. The film is for the most part show in the wide-angle, letting us come closer to the actors, making us feel almost as we could reach out and touch them. The soundscape enforces and strengthens the feeling of closeness. We hear every clink of a wine glass, the rap of a chair being moved, the sounds of the wilderness all around us.
I really wanted to write a more sarcastic review, full of dry and sharp lines. Instead, I think I actually loved this movie for its flaws and its intimacy. Pig delivers something as rare as men, not being physically strongest but having the strength to endure emotional labor, teach and grow. It is tactile and intimate.