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Review: Pig

July 16, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

When you hear the basic outline for the plot of Pig, and that it stars Nicholas Cage as a lonesome truffle hunter living in the woods who has his beloved pig stolen, you would be forgiven for assuming that it was another one of Cage’s gonzo action roles, like a sort of riff on John Wick with a pig instead of a dog.

But Pig, director Michael Sarnoski’s surprisingly subdued debut feature, actually finds Cage in sombre, melancholic mode. Buried under long hair, a scruffy beard, and the weight of the world on his shoulders, Cage has many scenes of minimal dialogue, punctuated by a few strangely moving monologues. This is some of his finest, most restrained onscreen work, reminding us what he can be capable of as an actor when given the right role.

Cage stars in the film as Rob, whom we we first meet living alone in a cabin in the woods of Oregon. He forages for truffles with his pig, who serves as his pet and closest companion. His only human interaction is with his buyer Amir (Alex Wolff), who comes around weekly to collect truffles from him that he sells to high-end restaurants in Portland. When Rob’s cabin is broken into one night by masked assailants, who leave him bloodied and kidnap his pig, he travels into the city with Amir, in search of his animal friend.

This sounds like the setup for a revenge movie, and Pig sort of is that, I guess. But the film also becomes a journey through the past for Rob, as he is forced to reconcile with the life he left behind in Portland. At the same time, it’s a deconstruction and critique of the restaurant business, as well as an exploration of the relationships we have with food. And, somehow, it all works, at times beautifully so. It’s a strange movie in this regard, and one that holds back from going where you might expect it to, but is ultimately all the stronger for it.

The story is broken up into three chapters, and it does have an episodic feel to it, at times playing like a collection of strung together scenes that build upon each to create a complete whole. Elements of the characters and plot are kept somewhat vague, but this vagueness also feels intentional. Sarnoski does an impressive job establishing a strange, almost dreamlike atmosphere that makes us lean in right from the start. The tone of the piece feels singular, at times darkly funny and other times achingly bittersweet, matched by Patrick Scola’s moody cinematography.

At the centre of it all is Cage, whose haunted performance as a man burdened by his past has a surprising sense of sadness to it that permeates every frame. Those who doubt his acting abilities will find his work in Pig to be a revelation, while those already in tune with him will find it an affirmation of his talents. Where as in other roles Cage seems to delight in going wild and over the top, here he seems to take pleasure in holding back, defying our expectations by keeping things quiet and internal.

The result is a surprisingly poignant look at grief and loss, told through the eyes of a man who has long since turned his back on the world slowly realizing that he has nothing left to go back to. All this from a movie starring Nicholas Cage about a man and his pig. What an unexpected film this is in every way.

Pig is now playing in select theatres. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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