Lest you forget that Nicolas Cage once won an Oscar… he did. It was waaay back in 1995 for Leaving Las Vegas, in which he played a self-destructive alcoholic writer. Thanks to his quirky career choices and the overly histrionic acting, he’s since become known as a “cult film” fan fave. (But I must admit: I was really excited to see him play Joe Exotic.)
In his latest movie, Pig, Cage plays a self-destructive (possibly) alcoholic truffle-hunter. And you know what? He’s back to his Oscar-era fighting weight, turning in a nuanced, thoughtful, and dare I say, understated (okay, there is one existential scream) performance. In director Michael Sarnoski’s subdued debut, Cage is given time to unfurl the layers of his character, and he does so with measured ease and deepening intensity.
While the trailer makes the movie look like John Wick with a porker instead of a puppy, Pig is a much slower burn. Robin is a hermit holed up deep in the Oregon wildness who makes his living supplying choice truffles to Portland’s finest restaurants—and his truffle-hunting pig (Brandy) is the best in the biz. The only other people Robin interacts with are the Porsche-driving broker who gets the fungi from the forest to the kitchen, Amir (Alex Wolff), and, rarely, his fellow truffle-diggers.
One night Robin gets an unexpected visit from violent thugs who beat him up, poach his prized pig, and make tracks before he can even get outside to try and stop them. With no time to waste, Robin is forced to plunge back into the dark, violent city he left to find out who took his hog and why—he calls Amir for help, and the upscale city kid does his best to oblige, but he has no idea what he’s getting himself into. Let’s just say Robin’s past is a checkered one.
While some rough and tumble fight scenes and the theme of revenge are ever-present, Pig is nothing like John Wick, Taken, or the more recent similar thriller, Nobody. This is a rather somber drama and a character study of two men—one older and over it, the other an up-and-coming entrepreneur. We learn that Robin was once a celebrated chef who turned his back on the rat race for a quiet pace, while Amir wants nothing more than to be in the thick of Portland’s cut-throat foodie world. Yet, even though they are at different stages in life, their shared mission unites them, and we see gripping performances from both Cage and Wolff. Adam Arkin is also well-cast as a figure from Robin’s past who has a surprising connection to Amir.
While there is a lot to like about Pig—excellent performances, lush cinematography, unique story angle—unfortunately, it is quite slow. Yes, it’s a “slow burn,” to quote myself, but it needs more burn and less slow. Sarnoski is undoubtedly a meticulous, visually-oriented filmmaker who is only just emerging. However, I feel there are ways to build up the story’s suspense and mystery factors.
When all is said and done, it’s Cage’s contained, unsentimental performance that makes Pig worth watching and worth thinking about after it fades to black.