During the production of Pig, the latest project from writer and director Michael Sarnoski, the film’s star, Nicolas Cage, supposedly took co-star Alex Wolff and the crew to a screening of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. It’s quite fitting; perhaps Cage wanted to not simply have everyone experience a terrific movie, but also see the way that Bong’s masterpiece constantly surprises the audience in unpredictable and captivating ways. Pig feels very much like it’s cut from the same cloth – every time you think you know where it’s going, it manages to veer in a different yet pertinent direction. It’s a film that isn’t afraid of detours, and the way it weaves its way through various genres makes it near impossible to easily define or categorize. At times heartbreaking, other times nail-bitingly tense, enlightening, tender, and sometimes strangely and outrageously hilarious, Pig is easily one of the best films of the year.
Separated into three distinct parts, the film begins with a grizzled forager named Rob (Cage) out in the lush and secluded woods with his beloved truffle pig by his side. As they search for truffles and return to their cabin to prepare dinner, the forest feels like a place out of time, back when there was only wilderness for endless miles and the sound of insects and coyotes are what filled the dark night air. Life seems peaceful. The illusion is immediately broken by the arrival of a shiny yellow Camaro making its way through the trees. Rob isn’t so far from civilization after all, in fact, he’s just a little ways out of the city of Portland. The car’s driver, Amir (Wolff), is a young, sharply dressed, and snooty entrepreneur and the one person Rob does business with to stay afloat. The truffles that he and his pig gather fetch a fine price, and even though the two men clearly don’t care for each other much (Rob doesn’t even respond to anything Amir says), they do seem to honor whatever business agreement they’ve come to.
Rob’s silent sanctuary abruptly comes crashing down one night when a group of assailants bust down the door of the cabin, knocking Rob unconscious and kidnapping his sweet piggy. They shouldn’t have done that. Bloodied, angry, and determined, Rob heads back into society for the first time in what seems like forever on a mission to get the pig back, and he drags Amir along to assist. This kind of setup may remind you of revenge thrillers along the likes of John Wick or Cage’s own Mandy, and while Pig does certainly contain similar elements to them (right down to how the hero’s sorrow is what breeds their resolve) and the trailer may sell it that way, the film instead shows that it’s much more interested in quieter, pensive moments and philosophical musings. Make no mistake though, violence is still present here. Rob and Amir’s journey takes them into the strange and dangerous criminal underbelly of the Portland, a place of secret fight clubs, fancy upscale dining, and an elaborate network of in-the-know people that Rob used to be a prominent part of in his old life.
If Cage is channeling any of his past roles that took advantage of his signature hysteric fury, it’s either bubbling just beneath the surface of Rob’s gruff exterior or buried deep down. Or perhaps whatever rage Rob used to have is simply no longer there and has been replaced by the pain that brought him into the woods in the first place? Either way, he’s not keen on throwing punches (although he can take them like a champ) and instead appeals to the growing number of people that stand between him and his precious pig in unexpected ways that you’re best off not knowing beforehand.
This is one of the most concentrated and profound performances of Cage’s vast and varied career. Rob has a soft voice; when he finally speaks to the first person he has in over a decade, it comes out weak and creaky, and it largely remains so for the entirety of the film. Most of the character and his state of mind comes from Cage’s face alone, conveying a world-weary man who carries a deep sense of sadness about him but also earned wisdom. Rob also occasionally goes into extended monologues about life, what matters and what doesn’t, apocalypses and persimmons, and Cage’s calm yet ardent deliveries are what make them feel like captivating soliloquies rather than mere ramblings. The character towers over everyone else, and his single fusty outfit that becomes increasingly soiled by blood and grime, along with his increasingly mangled hair and beaten face, creates both a drastically poignant and humorous contrast to the many well-kempt people he shares the screen with.
Wolff is equally great in playing the straight man to Cage’s bizarre hermit, as well as someone hilariously out of his element in the underground world of culinary criminality that the two get into. Yet Amir, for all of his phoney confidence and swagger, holds his own feelings of loss and melancholy from the turbulent ride of life. He and Rob make a mismatched pair seemingly at odds with one another, but both learn to find comfort within the other. It’s their first real connection with another human being in quite some time.
Pig is consistently fascinating in the way it goes about telling its story and exploring its characters. It’s a film meant to be felt rather than analyzed, one that’s rich with contemplation and self-reflection. You would be hard-pressed to not be moved by its words, tranquil visuals, and tough lessons on what to make of your life and what’s important. Also, it’s pretty damn funny. There’s so much humanity behind Pig, where every shot is in service of the characters and has something to say about them and their journey. A wholly original, delightful, and stirring work of art, this is absolutely not a film to miss.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★