As concepts go, the idea of Nicolas Cage heading out in search of his stolen truffle pig sounds like a movie filled either with cheeky melodrama or cartoonish violence. Instead, writer/director Michael Sarnoski delivers a simple yet emotional drama that is sure to leave a lasting impact.
Cage stars as Rob, an isolated truffle hunter living in the forest outside of Portland. His nameless pig is his constant and only companion, apart from brief weekly visits from his broker Amir (Alex Wolff), an obnoxious kid from the city who dislikes trekking out to Rob’s cabin as much as Rob dislikes the interruptions.
Life in the woods seems idyllic, but it is really a hideout, a bastion against the outside forces of pain, trauma, and suffering. What is immediately intriguing about Pig is not that Nic Cage is living in the woods with a swine and cooking surprisingly complex dishes with limited resources, but how he manages to convey deep depression with such authentically heartbreaking beauty.
When Rob’s pig is stolen in a violent and cruel midnight theft, he is left injured, bleeding, and devastatingly alone. The only person he can call is Amir, who is torn between not wanting to be bothered and not wanting to lose his meal ticket. He agrees to help, albeit reluctantly, and what follows is a gradual development of trust, if not quite friendship.
Where other films with similar loglines become (sometimes great) bloody revenge flicks, Pig is something else entirely. The pig matters, of course, and the search leads to some seedy underbelly-type places from homeless encampments to high-end restaurants, exposing the cutthroat behind-the-scenes of Portland’s supposedly chill foodie landscape. But as Amir — and by extension the audience — gets to know the who and why of Rob, the payoff is not a lot of weaponry and martial artistry. John Wick he is not. Who he really is and why that matters is a surprise carefully woven into the fabric of the story. While other reviews have laid out all the details, the discovery is part of the journey and the less said the better.
What can be said is that Rob’s true talent for disarming opponents has more to do with seeing them for who they truly are, using his words to hold up a mirror to them and forcing them to look at themselves. These encounters frequently lead to poignant moments as he faces people he once knew, asking them to carefully consider who they have become and whether the choices they made were worth it. In the hands of a different performer or a less capable writer, these scenes could have been overwrought, or even a bit ridiculous. Instead, each is intentional and thoughtful, taking its time but never taking too long.
It has been awhile since we’ve seen such a moving performance from the Oscar-winning actor and Cage’s ability to look deep into the souls of his co-stars reminds us that despite his silly fun movies like National Treasure, Gone in Sixty Seconds, and Mandy, he is a gifted actor who occasionally blesses us with glimpses of his brilliance.
Trotting in Cage’s wake yet always keeping up is Alex Wolff who first introduces Amir as an entitled brat with ambition that far outweighs his experience. As uncomfortable hours stretch into multiple days, Amir and Rob get to know each other, slowly revealing hidden depths and sadness. While it is clear early on that Rob has suppressed a traumatic past, Amir has buried pain of his own and through his performance, Wolff carefully peels back those layers.
Pig is a surprising film. It never goes the way you might expect, and somehow all feels inevitable at the same time. We’ve become accustomed to gory, rage-fueled, fist-and-gun rampage movies. There is deep satisfaction to be found in watching a guy get pummeled for doing something as mean and relatively minor as stealing a man’s furry friend. It’s something else entirely to watch the man look into someone’s eyes and quietly ask, “What happened to you?”
In a cynical world that requires us to look out only for ourselves, this is a film about recognizing the humanity in one another. It’s not a movie about a man finding his stolen pig. It is a character study about a broken, forgotten man finding himself, and helping others find themselves along the way.
Pig is distributed by NEON and is now playing in theaters nationwide.