Any movie-lover will appreciate when a movie surprises you in just about every way, a film that seems to know your expectations just so it can thwart them. Writer/director Micahel Sarnoski's film Pig is just one of those kinds of films that beguile you at every turn. I would strongly urge you to go in knowing as little as possible as Pig is most effective with as little spoiled as possible.
Therefore, I will tread carefully here as I review the film. If you have seen the trailer or heard about the film, chances are you are thinking of John Wick-type revenge film with plenty of Nicolas Cage freakouts. Nic Wick is not what this is. Instead, we are treated to a bizarre meditation on loss and what truly matters in life, the very few things we care about. Yes, this is a film about introverted and reclusive Rob (Cage) whose beloved truffle pig is stolen from him. The film follows him as he hunts for who took his pig. So you can see why expectations may lean towards a violent revenge film. Sarnoski is a clever writer and is after something deeper here. He achieves it with one of the more oddly satisfying and memorable films of the year.
At first, we see Rob and his pig and observe their daily life. A young man Amir (Alex Wolff) appears one day. We understand quickly that Amir picks up the truffles and is Rob's main source of income. We get hints over the course of the film that Rob was once a decorated chef who left everything while grieving a woman he loved. Early on, Rob starts to play a tape with her voice on it but can't bring himself to it. His pig is a clear substitute for this woman. He cares for it far more than the income it brings him.
The kidnapping causes Rob to make Amir take him into Portland, the nearest big city. He has a vague idea of who might be able to help him find his pig. Rob has been out of society for ten years though. His contacts aren't the same. The first half of the film plays somewhat like a detective film. However, check your rampage expectations at the door. There is very little violence here even when revenge is carried out.
Enough cannot be said about Cage's performance here. He is devastating as Rob, reminded us that he can be an incredibly moving actor when not screaming at the top of his lungs or killing demonic Chuck-E-Cheese rip-offs. Very little is wisely outright said about Rob but Cage gives deep layers to this character. The film has an otherworldly feel about it as Rob navigates through seedy underground worlds of chefs and restaurant workers. The Portland restaurant scene is as twisty as the underground world of drugs or the mafia here. It could be silly if the film wasn't anchored by the thoughtful, somber performance from Cage.
One great scene in the film hints at what Pig is truly about. Rob comes across a head chef of a trendy restaurant. He remembers the man who worked for him for two months before Rob fired him. Rob even remembers his dream of opening a true English pub. Now he is serving deconstructed scallops. Rob peers into his soul, asking him if he enjoys cooking and telling him there are few things in life we are given to care about. The man cracks in front of Rob, a shell of a person unsure about what even matters in life. It is a masterful scene.
Wolff is very good here too as a counterpart to Rob. The two create chemistry that helps us care about the fate of both men. This relationship is key to the film's success. Amir is a fascinating character that matches Rob. Amir is a character who knows he deserves better but isn't sure why he knows that and feels fearful of exploring it. His truffle business is both an attempt to be successful and a power move against his father but his heart never seems in either pursuit. He isn't soulless enough for the role he has written for himself. This is evident in the tapes he listens to in his car that explain why classical music is great. Pig is a genuine surprise. It is a deeply felt film about loss and pain. It feels like a film from decades ago where fringe characters were allowed to be the focus. This is an open-hearted film masking as a revenge film. It won't be for everyone, especially those who expect a more violent rampage. For those open to it, Pig is one of this year's standout films. It contains two great performances and reminds us of the power of Nicolas Cage.