Quiet yet stirring, seething and yet steady – “Pig” is the unlikely fusion of incongruous ingredients. It’s equal parts the nihilism of “First Reformed,” the clear-eyed justice-seeking of “John Wick,” and the buffet of grief and cuisine of Jonathan Teplitzky’s lesser-seen “Burning Man”.
Nicolas Cage’s Robin is a man withdrawn from the world in the Oregon wilderness. He is spending his time stalking the near-mystical and profound isolation with his companion truffle pig. Occasionally he barters the fruits of their labour with a supplier – Alex Wolff’s Amir who is Robin’s last remaining interface to contemporary life.
Then, in the dead of night, ‘pig-nappers’ descend on their forest cabin, assault Robin and escape with the disconcerting squeals of the portly and panicked hog shrieking into the darkness. Bloodied and beaten, Robin enlists Amir as a guide and stages a brief resurrection into the cutthroat Portland cuisine scene to track down his companion.
It’s pretty safe to say to acknowledge that Cage has emerged as the maverick outlier of a generation. In his commanding and demanding roles, there’s simply no other actor that’s able to touch the deepest registers of human pain like Cage.
It’s on record that Cage has an intuitive (nee impulsive) connection with the roles that attract him in this passage of his career. It’s not simply a script, or a character, or a story but a kind of stage to deliver a whole character that reverberates in a space, that’s his jam.
It feels as though Robin’s entire package – the body oil-stained undergarments, the sturdy and stiff coat, the messily chopped fingerless gloves, the unkempt and overgrown grey hair and beard combination and hesitance to bathe – are one part of the attraction. The other is not being strangled by the emotional state of a character in this retreating state. However, it’s not a character that conveys a magma like rage; instead, it’s nearly extinguished embers of love, purpose and meaning.
Alex Wolff’s Amir is so obsessed with expressing the attributes of success. He drives a contemporary muscle car with a custom paint job. Blaring from the speakers of his compensation machine is what sounds like a guided education on classical music, the perfect repetitious ear-worm that’s ready to be parroted in any interaction with his perceived ‘betters’. Cultural sophistication is the final ingredient a son determined to defy the icy cold dominance of his father Darius (played with sociopathic focus by Adam Arkin).
“Pig” was conceived by producer Vanessa Block and director Michael Sarnoski (who wrote the screenplay). It’s a tale of loss, both immediate and past. The whole story evokes the kind of tragic musings you conjure passing a familiar and recently demolished home. There’s an echo of the structure in the space vacancy, a kind of cool smokey memory and that’s where the story takes its cues.
Cage’s Robin re-emerges and we register the impact of his return through the eyes of Amir. While the greed that drives the theft that drives the film, it’s not closed doors and cruelty in every moment. The sense of what’s right, and Robin’s integrity beneath the bristle makes every new interaction unpredictable. While it’s ultimately Robin’s tale, to see his companion returned to him, Amir is having what is essentially his father’s world redefined by another incredibly, impactful influential, now hidden figure.
So much of “Pig” is defined by changing the frequency of Cage’s incredible physicality. The camera is steady; the edits are often invisible. The compositions set an ambience and mood for a restrained feast of conveyed emotions. There are treks through a misty forest where Cage’s imposing, rigid and Boris Karloff-like frame is camouflaged by towering trees.
We shift and see this grubby mountain of a man trundle down the rolling dale of black tarmac to make his way back to the world as we know it. When he’s navigating an outdoor food market or the bowels of a secret passage through a hotel restaurant kitchen, his navigation makes him feel more at home.
Sarnoski and Scola’s camera stalks to keep lockstep with Cage’s Robin. And so, when there are rare moments of fantastic tactile food handling (foraging for truffles) or preparation, it’s a welcome embrace. Conversely, they deliberately choose to shock the audience by riding the camera and our POV through Robin’s collapse. In the lead up to the film’s finale, there are some titanic emotional moments they stage with the audience at a distance. It’s not for the protection of the characters; instead, it’s the audience.
“Pig” is a thrilling tale of reclamation. Sarnoski makes you contend with Robin’s definition of justice in the face of resigning to the fact that the world as we know it is on a countdown timer to any number of potential environmental extinction events. But, rather than dwelling in the overwhelming despair that that kind of situation inspires, it meditates on those elemental things that make life worth living. In the lead up to the conclusion, Amir asks Robin, “Why the f–k did we do all this?” Robin replies, “because I love her.” That’s not just enough, it’s everything.