THE STORY – Living alone in the Oregon wilderness, a truffle hunter returns to Portland to find the person who stole his beloved pig.
THE CAST – Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff & Adam Arkin
THE TEAM – Michael Sarnoski (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 92 Minutes
By Dan Bayer
You hear the logline “Nicolas Cage stars as a truffle hunter who goes on a search for his stolen pig,” and you expect a certain kind of movie. You just do. But Michael Sarnoski’s debut feature, “Pig,” is not that kind of movie. Not even in the slightest. While it has moments of humor, and moments of violence, on the whole, this is a remarkably stark, sedate drama about a man desperately trying not to overcome grief. It marks Sarnoski as a writer-director to watch as well as a stunning return to form for Cage, one of our most underrated actors working today.
For years, Cage has primarily languished in direct-to-VOD B-movies that only have his incredible charisma and unique, gonzo energy to recommend them. It’s increasingly rare that a director asks him to actually act, but that is what Sarnoski has done here, and Cage repays him with one of his all-time best performances. Hunching his back with a bone-deep weariness even in the film’s happier opening sequence, Cage pours his heart and soul into the performance, turning himself inward to the degree that he never has before. It’s a potent reminder of how subtle a performer Cage can be while also harnessing his unique star persona. There are moments throughout “Pig” where the character’s stillness throws whole scenes off-balance purely through the intensity he lets flash through his eyes. This is a flawlessly calibrated performance, one that allows the mystery of the character’s past life to simmer until critical moments where it has to boil over. Cage has never been this subtle, and that is just one of the many lovely surprises that “Pig” has in store.
The other main surprise is the story by Sarnoski and Vanessa Block. Beginning as a dark revenge tale, it shape-shifts constantly, hinting at tropes from multiple genres before fully revealing itself at the start of the last act. It is at that point that “Pig” becomes emotionally resonant in a highly unexpected way, uniting the stories of its two main characters (Cage and Alex Wolff as a flashily wealthy young truffle dealer) in a way that makes complete sense in retrospect but that the film barely even hints at before that point. It’s stunning and speaks to Sarnoski’s strength as a writer and as a director. Managing to keep this film on an even keel requires a sturdy hand, and in fact, it may be too even-keeled for some.
The film has only a couple of peaks in energy, mainly content to leisurely wander towards its conclusion. While the pace may be slow, there are moments of humor to lighten the tone, and the cinematography by Patrick Scola has a hypnotic pull. When combined with the strong screenplay and performances, “Pig” is never anything less than intriguing, even when seemingly not much is happening. It may not be the film you expect to see going in (and this review has deliberately avoided spoilers for the sole purpose of maintaining your surprise), but it’s something better, deeper: A elegiac tale of broken people coming to terms with their grief by coming to terms with each other. It begins as a love story between a man and his pig and ends as a love story between a man and other humans, and that feels even more resonant after a year of separation from loved ones. It’s a stunning, spellbinding piece of cinema.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Nicolas Cage gives his best performance in years in this surprisingly lyrical meditation on grief.
THE BAD – A bit too low-key in tone.
THE OSCARS – None