Director: Michael Sarnoski Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin Runtime: 92 minutes
A bloodied, weathered Nic Cage sits in an up-market restaurant. The man staring back at him is crippled with embarrassment, terrified of what comes next. “We don’t get a lot of things to care about” whispers Cage before asking the all-important question..:
“Who has my pig?”
I spent the first 30 minutes of Pig searching for a touchstone to make sense of what I was experiencing. The trailer promised yet another revenge story with Nic Cage navigating his way through a bizarre set-up (in this instance, the case of the missing truffle pig…) and I was, in all honesty, quite excited at the prospect. 2018’s Mandy, while not perfect, was an interesting watch which proved, once again, Cage’s ability as a leading man AND that his reach didn’t stop past the straight-to-DVD bargain bin (if you remember what those are). From its trailer, Pig looked like another venture into this space and I was excited.
However, Michael Sarnoski’s Pig is something I truly didn’t expect. What starts as a madcap revenge thriller slowly unfolds into something altogether different and more unique: a tale of deep sadness, fear & loss punctuated by moments of true beauty with raw, human performances at its core. In short, Pig is the biggest surprise of the year and one of this year’s best.
“We don’t get a lot of things to really care about.”
Deep within the Oregon wilderness, Robin (Nic Cage) and his trusty pig companion spend their days hunting for truffles on the forrest’s floors before retreating back to his secluded cabin. Cut off from the rest of society, his only visitor is Amir, a local business man (Alex Wolff), who provides Robin with the bare essentials in exchange for his prized truffles. One night, after a violent break-in, Robin’s pig is stolen and he is forced to return to the city he once left behind.
Robin’s journey is nearly scuppered at every point as he attempts to cross bridges he burnt long ago. Pig tackles many different themes along the way, but the overriding story is that of a man returning to his past to confront his former self. His past ambition is now a source of embarrassment. Those who were once friends are now enemies. And his inspirations are long since forgotten. As we delve deeper into his past, it becomes clear just how much his animal companion means to him and how, without it, he truly has nothing left to lose.
The movie navigates these themes through a simple 3 act structure, each with its own distinct identity (and awesome name). Act 1 (Rustic Mushroom Tart) aligns with the expectation I had going in as the movie visits Portland’s darkest corners dressed as a bizarre revenge thriller. Act 2 (Mom’s French Toast & Deconstructed Scallops) completely changes tack, opting to let our characters grow within the setting of a mysterious investigation before visiting our final act (A Bird, A Bottle & A Salted Baguette). It is hard to discuss the final act in any great detail as this is a spoiler-free review and I would encourage everyone to experience this movie their own way. However, needless to say, by the time we reach the film’s 3rd & final act, we are able to empathise with our lead characters, understand them and invest ourselves deep within the outcome of the film.
Pig has a lot of interesting things to say about how we consume as a culture: we sit in expensive restaurants with Robin & Amir where food & art are deemed as one; we sit in a car with Amir as he listens to classical music supported by instructions on how to truly enjoy the experience. Sarnoski’s clever use of this motif only heightens Robin’s exclusion from this society and serves to justify his decision to abandon what was, to him, a life without purpose driven by concern over what others thought. In the best scene of the movie, Robin lays his views out for all to see: “Everyday you wake up and there’ll be less of you. You live your life for them and they don’t even see you. You don’t even see yourself.” Put simply, Pig is a critique of pretension and a statement of how a love for one’s craft is the only true way to make art.
As a strong counterpoint to Robin’s authenticity & jaded demeanour, we have Amir (played expertly by Alex Wolff). Our first introduction to him is when he bursts through the soft drone of the forrest with his bright sports car, slicked back hair & obnoxious attitude. As the film progresses, we witness him prep for conversations he is going to have with his ‘business associates’ and try to culture himself through excessive listening to the aforementioned classical music (albeit with safety wheels on). He is at all points trying to impress those around him and escape the shadow his successful father casts on the Portland business scene.
And yet, while undeniably pathetic in design, Amir was my favourite aspect of the film. The sweet combination of Wolff’s acting & Sarnoski’s writing transform this otherwise desperate character into someone more sympathetic. As Robin searches for the one thing that gives him purpose (a.k.a. his pig), Amir begins to question what it is that drives him making for some of the most impressive scenes I have seen in a movie all year.
“I’d like to speak to the chef.”
While Wolff is something special in this, we can’t forget Nic Cage’s solid turn as our Pig Hunter-in-chief. For a man known for his flamboyant & erratic performances, it’s hard to accept just how stripped back this performance truly is in this. While the film flirts with unleashing ‘Cage-mode’ in its first act, it never truly indulges and finds exceptionally touching moments of authenticity within Cage’s portrayal of Robin throughout the movie.
So, who do we have to thank for Pig? While the movie’s success can be attributed to a combination of factors, it is the wonderful direction & writing from debut filmmaker Michael Sarnoski that really anchors everything for me. Sarnoski clearly has something to say and the quality to get his message heard. Everything about this film works for me and feels like the work of a seasoned filmmaker instead of a debutant. I’ll be watching eagerly to see what he does next and pray to god it has nothing to do with Marvel or DC…
Pig is a magnificent little film, crafted by someone who really cares for the characters and the film-watching experience. My absolute hope is that people flock to theatres to get behind this movie and experience it for themselves as it warrants our support.
To wrap this up, I will finish with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” Working completely in the face of this film, I included that to impress readers…but I’m sure there’s something in that we can attribute to Pig..right?(5 / 5)