Nicolas Cage is an actor with a track record so varied that you’d be hard-pressed to drum up unbridled enthusiasm by uttering the words, “Hey, have you seen the latest Nic Cage movie?”. Yet Pig, in which Cage plays a reclusive man living in the woods with his pig, generated a wave of positive buzz which only ramped up further upon release.
Pig marks the directorial debut of Michael Sarnoski although the movie has such a refined maturity that you would never know this upon watching. The tightly controlled plot is filled with buried tasty flourishes, ready to be snuffled out along the way.
At first, things appear as simple as can be. Helped by his truffle-hunting pig, the unkempt and gruff Rob (Cage) sells his foraged produce to cocky and materialistic Amir (Alex Wolff), who then supplies top-end Portland restaurants.
When intruders break into Rob’s home, knock him unconscious, and steal his pig, he enlists the reluctant Amir to drive him into the city and track it down.
Where Pig shines is how slowly and masterfully it allows this simple story to develop. Rob and Amir’s personal journey is a classic one of resentment blooming into respect, with both Cage and Wolff shifting their mannerisms as they learn more about each other.
Rob’s background (how he lived before, and how he came to become a recluse) quickly becomes the central narrative, driven forward by the search for his beloved porcine companion rather than dictated by it.
Although buried under a mass of beard and long hair, Cage holds the camera’s attention with a mostly muted performance. Less is more is the old saying and Pig exemplifies how a piercing stare or a pained turn of the cheek delivers so much more power than righteous fury or chest-thumping aggression.
With Rob’s face covered in blood that he cares not to wash off, and Amir trying to keep a low profile as he drives Rob about a town where reputation is everything, there is a dash of the straight man funny man dynamic between the two. Yet Sarnoski delivers this with a tone of thoughtful weariness and melancholy.
The precious pig spends such little time on screen before being snatched away, squealing horribly in distress, yet imprints on us just as strongly as Rob. “Because I love her,” Cage says simply and without any trace of tongue in cheek, when Amir presses him as to why he’s so determined.
Is Pig Worth Watching?
The character study gets more compelling the more that Rob stumbles around the city, and the more people who knew what he once stood for are challenged by what he has become. The sprinkles of character ignited by the theft burn with such a low but constant thrum that any assumptions of a dark and horrible culmination float away like ashes.
Pig brings itself round to an unexpected conclusion that serves a satisfying endpoint for our characters’ journeys, seasoned with the sadness of how we all got around this table in the first place.
Cage has never been finer, glueing together the story even when situations develop into potentially plot derailing moments.
An underground fight club scene could have become needlessly masochistic but instead further serves the character journey structure, revealing information that only becomes fully appreciated later when Rob strongly but compassionately derides an haute cuisine chef.
When the place settings are tidied away at the end, Pig leaves us glad we could savour each bite, even if we know in our heart that such a fine meal will eventually have to end.
Words by Mike Record