Nicolas Cage has become synonymous with over the top and at points even manic characters. However, if you are a fan of seeing that kind of Cage caricature performance, well, sorry friends, Pig may not be the film for you.
Michael Sarnoski’s feature directorial debut, Pig, is an atmospheric thriller that follows a self-exiled chef on a mission to find his truffle pig, who, due to power struggles in Oregon’s underground culinary world, ends up kidnapped. While proving to be one of the actor’s more subtle and emotionally driven roles to date, the thriller movie also oozes with art-house appreciation, that while not always hitting the mark, engages viewers, immersing them in a cinematic journey to answer the big question – who has Nic Cage’s Pig?
Robin Feld is a man living a simple and isolated life in the wilderness with his pig. Getting by selling truffles to a restaurant businessman Amir (Alex Wolff), his humble life is turned on its head once his animal friend is kidnapped. To get her back, Rob re-enters society, faces his culinary past, and comes to terms with his wife’s death, who is revealed to have died fifteen years prior.
The main meat of Pig is the relationship between Amir and Rob. Both characters have had their lives impacted by loss, and both have to face their trauma once they team up to find the missing bovine. Amir is haunted by his father’s influence and is clinging to memories of happier times. Rob is also struggling to let go of his past and is terrified of losing what is important to him again.
Wolff’s portrayal as an appearance-obsessed man desperate to prove himself perfectly compliments Cage’s stoic portrayal of a determined hermit, who, like a monk on a mission, calmly imparts wisdom while searching for his truffle hunting friend. It’s a striking dynamic, propelled by the two actor’s strong chemistry, that ends up offering some really touching scenes. Combined with the movie’s stellar score and beautiful imagery of Oregon’s wilderness, Wolf and Cage’s collaborative performance and emotionally charged relationship is one of, if not the most, exciting and unique aspects of the movie.
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When Pig’s trailer first came out, fans made a slew of John Wick comparisons. While Cage personally denied these observations, after watching the film, the similarities are indisputably there. Firstly, there is the obvious puppy and pig comparison, both character’s turned to animals to cope with loss, and both of them suddenly lose that support crutch, prompting them to take action. However, there is also the “dark” underground world that we see in both films – in Pig’s case, the underbelly of Portland’s restaurant industry and truffle trade, which Robin Feld has unlimited access to, thanks to his name. But it is during these morally dubious underground scenes where Pig loses its way, and becomes even, dare we say, hammy?
Without giving too much away, viewers witness a jarring restaurateur version of fight club, are introduced to a stereotypical dodgy informant called Edgar, and every accessibility obstacle in a script centred around the “tense” search for a pig, is solved too conveniently just by the mere mention of Rob’s full name. Something about this side of John Wick’s world doesn’t fit quite right with the emotionally complex story or the gentle existential art-house sensibility that Pig presents at its forefront.
During these points, it feels like Pig doesn’t know quite what it wants to be, shifting in style too suddenly, making some scenes, and direction come across as clunky instead of intentional. That being said, these moments, while memorable, are still few and far between, and don’t take away too much from the overall impact that is Sarnoski’s story about grief and the painful journey to self-acceptance.
Where Pig really thrives is in its subtext and themes. Sarnoski has packed the script full of intertwining journeys revolving around the aftermath of death and how it changes a person. When what we love leaves us, who are we? When we lose what we love, does a great wave of sadness envelop us and do we cease to exist? All those big questions are carried through Cage’s character, who had physically and mentally retreated within himself and away from society after the death of his wife.
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These themes are further amplified by the movie’s steady cinematography that focuses on propelling a sense of still loneliness. As we see steady camera work that lingers on nature shots, the audience feel immersed by the movie’s sombre atmosphere, just as Cage’s character is consumed by his own feelings of loss and grief.
Pig may not be for everyone, but it is still worth the watch. It is a gentle, slow-burn movie, that while not perfect and a bit messy in some places, is undeniably a great piece of cinema. For those that love existential and cerebral films over action-packed blockbusters, Pig especially won’t disappoint. Hopefully, we can expect more roles like this from Cage in the future, and it’ll be exciting to see what Sarnoski will bring to the big screen next after such a strong debut.
PIG is in UK and Irish cinemas now. Watch it on altitude.film and other digital platforms from August 23.