Nicolas Cage’s reputation precedes him. That’s becoming a problem. His patented “Cage Rage” – the manic freakouts that make for memeable clips – have obscured his talent. Cage’s films as of late draw in audiences that are there to enjoy his work ironically, which misses the point. Cage is someone who thrives on pushing the boundaries of acting, exploring new territory with each performance. Pig might be his most drastic reinvention yet: total subtlety.
Pig builds itself on subverting expectations. Written and directed by Michael Sarnoski in his debut feature, the summary reads like a low-grade John Wick knockoff. Reclusive truffle farmer Rob (Cage) spends his days in isolation save for his beloved pig. His only other form of human interaction comes from Amir (Alex Wolff), a young hotshot in Portland’s culinary world that serves as his sole customer. Rob’s self-imposed isolation comes to an end when unknown assailants break into his cabin and steal his pig. This ignites a fire in Rob, who has one thing on his mind: find his pig.
Because of the recent trends in Hollywood movies, you keep expecting Pig to erupt into violence. Nic Cage is going to have some mysterious past as a hitman or someone with a “particular set of skills” and he’s gonna kill everyone in his path to get his pig back, right? Right? In a show of complete brilliance on Sarnoski’s part, he never allows that to happen. Now, before I go any further, let me say: the best way to experience Pig is to know as little as possible about it. I’m going to do my best to avoid giving the film away, but there are plot points and character arcs that will be discussed within. You have been warned.
No, Rob is not some kind of hitman, former government agent, or any kind of badass. At least, not in the traditional sense. He’s Robin Feld, a chef of legend in the Portland food scene who stepped away when his wife passed away. His journey is not one of vengeance, but of a broken man who simply wants to get the one thing he still loves back. Nicolas Cage is at his very best here. His Robin is the silent type, holding in the deep sadness that can ever-so-slightly be glimpsed in his eyes. But he’s also a man of wisdom; someone who has lived a storied life and then walked away from this. All of this is communicated through Cage’s sage-like, though still deeply human performance.
Also on top form is Alex Wolff. His young professional Amir is a prickly character at first glance. That’s putting it a little too kindly. Amir is a spoiled brat who is frequently impatient with Rob. As with every character in the film, however, Wolff and to a greater degree Sarnoski find the human in him. Amir has some deeply buried wounds, same as Robin, and the journey their characters go on is revelatory. No, that doesn’t suffice: deeply profound.
Rob and Amir’s quest for his Pig takes on a cosmic scale, despite it being mainly concerned with the inner working of the culinary world of Portland. Through scene after scene of brilliant dialogue, Pig probes just how deeply loss affects us. Deeper than that, Pig asks its characters and audience to reckon with the way our lives have changed, to decide what to let go of and what to hold on to. In a sense, the film wants us to reckon with the passing of time.
That’s a tall order, and no film can ever give the answers to those kinds of questions that are raised. At least, not through words. Pig instead weaponizes the value of emotional catharsis. In the film’s climax, in a near-silent scene featuring the great Alan Arkin, a character does an action. And that action inspired me to tears. That’s the power of cinema. That’s the power of Pig.
Michael Sarnoski’s Pig is the best film I’ve seen all year. Not because of formal mastery (although it does look and sound quite good) nor because of Cage’s performance. Because it allows a release. It allows the audience to reckon with life’s toughest situations. Like Nicolas Cage’s performance, Pig is a surprise. Like the cooking of Robin Feld, it’s an experience that will stay with you forever. – James Preston Poole
Pig is now playing in theaters.