A film review by Craig J. Koban August 9, 2021

PIG jjjj
 

2021, R, 92 mins.

Nicolas Cage as Rob  /  Alex Wolff as Amir  /  Adam Arkin as Darius  /  Nina Belforte as Charlotte  /  Gretchen Corbett as Mac  /  Dalene Young as Jezebel  /  Darius Pierce as Edgar

Written and directed by Michael Sarnoski
 

 

 

 

Writer/director Michael Sarnoski's simply titled PIG is like the ultimate cinematic Rorschach test.  

Upon initial scrutiny it seems like it's one type of film, but the more that you allow yourself to become deeply immersed in the story and characters then it becomes a whole different kind of experience altogether.  

And at a very cursory read of its premise, PIG certainly does come off like just another embarrassing paycheck grabbing effort for Nicolas Cage: A hermit seeks revenge against crooks that have kidnapped his truffle-hunting pet pig.  It all sounds utterly daft, because it is, and the very early stages of PIG certainly sets itself up as some sort of endlessly bizarre JOHN WICK clone, with pigs being substituted in for puppies.  What's ultimately astounding and kind of masterful, though, about Sarnoski's directorial debut is how it manages to transcend our very expectations and instead delivers a completely melancholic and frequently moving commentary on loneliness, isolation, unexpected friendships, and how downtrodden people find unique outlets to achieve some kind of meaningful connection with others.  Very few dramas that I've seen as of late elevate themselves compellingly above their frankly out-there premises like PIG.  

That, and this film gives us one of Cage's most intricately layered and powerful performances in years. 

The opening sections of PIG - refreshingly spare, yet evocative - gives us a portal into one of Cage's most unlikely of on-screen heroes in Rob, who once had a normal, big city life, but now lives in absolute solitude deep in the forests of Oregon.  He's completely segregated from everything and everyone on the outside world (he doesn't even have a phone of any kind, land line or cell).  He has one trusted and loyal companion in the form of his large pet pig, who's quite adept at scavenging for sought after truffles (the kind that many restaurant chefs clamor for to make culinary works of art).  Rob sells these truffles to the only human he has regular contact with, a young supplier named Amir (Alex Wolff), who's a slick haired, convertible driving big-wig wanna-be player that kinds of annoys Rob, but he nevertheless sells his product to him to provide for his most basic of necessities.  Rob doesn't really want to have much to do with Amir outside of the required truffle transactions.  He would rather just be left alone to tend to himself and his unique companion.  Amir, of course, wants to elevate his stature in the restaurant supply industry and is desperate to climb the ladder of respectability. 

 

 

Tragedy soon strikes Rob's life when goons swoop in on his cabin out of nowhere in the middle of the night and beat him mercilessly while taking his beloved portly friend.  Realizing that he must make a return to the city of Portland to get answers as to his pig's whereabouts, Rob cleans himself up the best he can and decides to venture back, but he has a lot of challenges ahead of him.  He has become such a reclusive fish-out-of-water that when he arrives at one diner and asks to speak to the owner that he knows, he's quickly informed that he's been dead for over a decade (so, yeah, this guy's been off the grid for what seems like an eternity).  Seeking assistance from Amir, both men form an strange alliance to help Rob get back the love of his life, a journey that takes them both into the dark underbelly of the restaurant world and re-introduces Rob to some old friends in the industry that he once was close with. 

This second half of PIG is its most hypnotizing, as we seen Rob returning to microcosm of urban chefs, and it's slowly revealed over the course of the narrative that he was indeed a large player with a once legendary reputation within it that he walked away from forever for unspecified reasons.  Part of the cerebral torment that Rob endures here is that he has to infiltrate the very thing that he now despises with a passion: the world of snobby foodies and decadent eateries that - in his mind - sucked the soul right out of his body.  It's this little seen universe in movies - of chefs, suppliers, owners, etc. -  and the vast history contained within that makes PIG so compulsively and unexpectedly watchable, and seeing the visual juxtaposition of this disheveled and world weary hermit infiltrating this posh world is absorbing to explore.   One of the very best scenes in this film - or in any recent film that I've seen - shows Rob and Amir meeting one maitre-'d turned top chef (David Knell), a former employee of Rob's that he worked with for just two months over 15 years ago.  Rob, in a coldly calculating manner, moves away from the early niceties of their reunion and then proceeds to verbally eviscerate this man for being an arrogant minded and narcissistic phony.  "Every day," he sternly tells him, "you'll wake up and there'll be less of you."  Watching this now celebrated chef become emotional putty as a result of Rob's softly spoken, but venomously hostile attacks on his character is one of PIG'S sinful pleasures. 

It's moments like this - and so many countless more - where PIG all but erodes any notion that it's trying to be some sort of seedy JOHN WICK-ian clone.  The most basic elements of the plot follow those closely of that action thriller, to be sure, but PIG's execution, tone, and story end game could not be any more diametrically different than that Keanu Reeves vehicle.  There's no bloody action or violent comeuppance for Rob on his mission, even though he achieves said comeuppance in the more distinctively unpredictable ways.  And the journey that Sarnoski takes us on with this sad sack of a man builds towards different crescendos and payoffs.  PIG never once traverses down a linear point A to B and finally to C narrative trajectory.  It takes great relish in exploring the grief of a man dealt with a devastating blow of friendship loss and how he processes it.  This is not a bare bones revenge tale, nor or a simplistic man on a mission odyssey, even though it has traits of both.  No, PIG is more ethereal and elusive than that, which makes for a deeply meditative watch.  If you get past the sheer superficial outlandishness of the core premise here and allow the film to sneak up on you with one expectation-defying plot turn after another then it becomes hard to escape its tractor beam-like vortex. 

And, yes, this could have all gone so horribly wrong if under the wrong creative hands, but Sarnoski understands how to properly utilize his star in profoundly atypical ways, which allows audiences to experience Cage in all manners that we're unfortunately not privy to much these days.  If you want to see the obligatory powder-keg of over-the-top histrionics that have made some of Cage's past performances (both good and bad) iconic in the industry, then PIG is not for you.  If you want to see a reserved, internalized, a thoughtful Cage performance that reveals hidden layers without any showy, rage-fuelled outbursts, then PIG is definitely for you.  Rob is such a superb character challenge for Cage because it allows for him to evoke a man of hopelessness and deeply regressed anger that ultimately makes him so broken on so many levels.  Rob is a man pathetically out of time and place and is forced to re-inhabit a world that he has grown to loathe.  But he loves his pig and will stop at nothing to reclaim him, even if it means going back to the lion's den, so to speak.  Don't get me wrong, I love me some eccentrically off the wall Cage (see COLOR OUT OF SPACE from last year or MANDY before that), but PIG reminds us of why he doesn't get enough respect for being a highly dexterous actor that can change up his style on a dime when required to, which is what netted him his Best Actor Oscar all those years ago; he's mesmerizingly brilliant here.   

I can certainly understand how PIG may not be every filmgoer's cup of tea.  The sheer ludicrousness of the its premise may turn off people into thinking that it's another retrograde piece of direct to video trash for Cage (he's done more than his fair share in the last decade plus), not to mention that marketing it properly to the masses in a way that doesn't make prospective viewers think this (or spoil its surprises and pleasures) might be an impossible task.  For me, the best thing that I could say in supreme defense of PIG is that it takes what seems like a perfuctory kind of story that we've all seen before (in one form or another) and approaches it from a radically different viewfinder and creative approach.  It speaks volumes towards the more agonizing aspects of the doomed human condition and tries to relay a man's intense hurt via its high concept premise that, again, could have approached crude self-parody.  I was stunned at how immensely moving PIG was as an intimate character study, and it finds its heart of darkness in ways that I never could have foreseen, making for one of the year's finest diamond in the rough pictures.   

Is this the beginning of a Cage renaissance?  God, here's hoping. 

  H O M E