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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Pig

Nicolas Cage puts in one of his finest performances yet in this thoughtful revenge thriller about a truffle hunter searching for his stolen pig.
By Sarah Ward
September 16, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
September 16, 2021
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Nicolas Cage plays a truffle hunter. That's it, that's the pitch. When securing funding, those six words should've been enough to ensure that Pig made it to cinemas. Or, perhaps another high-concept summary helped. Maybe debut feature writer/director Michael Sarnoski went with these seven words: Nicolas Cage tracks down his stolen pet. Here's a final possibility that could've done the trick, too: Nicolas Cage does a moodier John Wick with a pig. Whichever logline hit the spot, or even if none did, Pig isn't merely the movie these descriptions intimate. It's better. It's weightier. It's exceptional. It always snuffles out its own trail, it takes joy in subverting almost every expectation and savouring the moment, and it constantly unearths surprises. Cage has spent much of his recent on-screen time fighting things — ninja aliens in the terrible Jiu Jitsu and possessed animatronics in the average Willy's Wonderland, for example — in movies that were clearly only made because that was the case. But, when he's at his absolute best, he plays characters whose biggest demons are internal. Here, he broods and soul-searches as a man willing to do whatever it takes to find his beloved porcine pal, punish everyone involved in her kidnapping and come to terms with his longstanding, spirit-crushing woes.

Sarnoski keeps things sparse when Pig begins; for the film and its protagonist, less is more. Rob Feld (Cage) lives a stripped-back existence in a cabin in the woods, with just his cherished truffle pig for company — plus occasional visits from Amir (Alex Wolff, Hereditary), the restaurant supplier who buys the highly sought-after wares Rob and his swine forage for on their walks through the trees. He's taken this life by choice, after the kind of heartbreak that stops him from listening to tapes of the woman he loved. He's found the solace he can in the quiet, the isolation and the unconditional bond with the animal he dotes on. (He's tampered down the full strength of his pain in the process, obviously.) But then, because bad things can happen in cabins in the woods even beyond horror flicks, Rob's pig is abducted in the dark of the night. Now, he's a man on a mission. He has a glare and a stare, too. As the swine's distressed squeals echo in his head, Rob stalks towards Portland to get her back. He needs Amir to chauffeur him around the city, but he has an idea of where to look and who to chase.

When the big pig kidnapping comes, and early, Pig initially resembles not only John Wick but Mandy. That 2018 film cast Cage as a lumberjack seeking his abducted girlfriend — also taken by intruders in the deep of night — and it proved his best movie in at least 15 years. Thankfully, Sarnoski and co-scribe/producer Vanessa Block haven't just taken Mandy and made a blatant swap. They haven't done the same with John Wick, either. And, performance-wise, Pig doesn't ask Cage to revisit a recent standout or follow in someone else's career-refreshing footsteps. The actor does soulful and yearning heartbreakingly well, as Bringing Out the Dead so potently established over two decades ago. Even in his most cartoonish fare (the type that isn't actually animated, because he's dabbled in voice work, too), he's masterful at conveying anger. Both longing and fury filter through here, because every Cage performance tugs and pulls at his past portrayals; however, this particular role calls for tenderness, despair and resolve all at once, and also contemplation, mystery, being wearied by too much grief and appreciating the little things and kindnesses. One of the delights of his efforts in Pig is how he keeps breaking down layer after layer, then piling on more, then stewing and simmering in them as well. Cage's over-the-top turns are entertaining to watch, but this is a measured gem of a portrayal, and a versatile, touching, deeply empathetic and haunting one that's up there with his finest ever. 

Compassion bubbles through Pig from the outset, in fact, and isn't just directed at Rob. As viewers discover more about him, his past life, why he knows about Portland's underground network of chefs and other hospitality industry figures, and how he can whip up a meal that brings someone to tears, we also learn about Amir. Pig isn't a star vehicle, but a double act. It knows how to deploy Cage at the height of his caged-in skills, and how well he can bounce off the right co-star. So, the film also dives into everything that's made Amir who he is — aka a truffle seller who is trying to get a jump in the food business, caught in a bigger shadow, hasn't matched his own or anyone else's expectations, but keeps bustling and hustling forward. He's self-aware about his struggles, and also trying to do something about them. He's wily and resourceful, and neurotic and jumpy at the same time. Wolff is just as brilliant as getting under his character's skin as Cage is, and just as compelling to watch as well. They're at their finest when they're together, unpacking what it means to navigate tragedy, fear, loss, regret, uncertainty, an uncaring world and a complicated industry, all in Rob and Amir's own ways — and attempting to free themselves of their own histories, embrace their own niches, and seek meaning and value.

In scene after scene, Cage and Wolff captivate, drawing viewers into their meaty performances. Sarnoski's directorial choices achieve the same feat, managing to favour simplicity and complexity in tandem — like cooking a dish with a variety of easy ingredients, then unlocking a world of flavours as they're combined. As lensed by Patrick Scola (Monsters and Men), Pig finds beauty in the everyday, including when Rob and the titular animal could've trotted straight out of documentary The Truffle Hunters. It lingers on walking, talking, kneading, sipping and eating, and sometimes on people overtly appreciating those things. Filling its frames with detail, including in streams of sunlight or the act of preparing a meal, it also acknowledges that nothing that comes with existing is ever straightforward — and that hurt, cruelty and darkness are inescapable. To let these notions swirl and sink in, editor Brett W Bachman (Werewolves Within, and also a Mandy alum) finds a stately, thoughtful rhythm. As set to a stirring score, too, the film muses, meditates and steeps. It's unmistakably a movie where Cage plays a truffle hunter on a quest for revenge after his adored pet pig is stolen, but this moving and humanistic picture is also welcomely and entrancingly so much more than that.

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