PIG (2021)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Michael Sarnoski
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 97% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregon wilderness must venture to urban Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is, I guess, pig-napped.

Gotta tell you, that plot summary is one of the most bizarre summaries I’ve ever typed out.  To me, it’s on par with, “A file clerk working on the 7th-and-a-half floor of an office building discovers a portal that transports you into the brain of John Malkovich for 15 minutes before spitting you onto the side of the Jersey Turnpike.”

Who read the elevator pitch for Pig and thought it was worth filming?  Nicolas Cage himself is credited as one of the producers, so that’s a partial explanation, I guess.  The film has twenty other credited producers and executive producers, so it’s clear the financial burden was spread around.  But still…a movie about a guy looking for his stolen pig?  Is this a movie you should run out and rent/stream/buy?

Yes.  Yes, you should.  Oh, but let me tell you why.

Cage plays a scraggly fellow named Rob who lives in the aforementioned cabin with his pig, whose name is never spoken throughout the movie.  (Although when it was over, I had one or two guesses of my own, each as unlikely as the other.)  This pig excels at finding valuable truffles hidden in the shallow forest soil.  How valuable?  Well, the ones we see in the movie are black, and the current market price for winter black truffles runs from $300 – $1,300 per kilo, depending on the variant.  So…yeah, pretty valuable.  Rob apparently funds his meager existence by selling his truffles to a high-end buyer named Amir (Alex Wolff, Hereditary [2018]), a slick customer who drives a banana-yellow late-model Camaro.  I’m not sure how many Portland restaurateurs can afford Camaros, but it didn’t bother me until this precise moment, so I’ll let it slide.

One night, unknown parties break into Rob’s cabin, beat him up, and steal his pig.  At this point, I was reminded unavoidably of the opening scenes of John Wick (2014), and I thought we were in for another kill-crazy-rampage film like Mandy (2018).  But I was very pleasantly surprised.

It turns out Pig isn’t a revenge movie, or a weird Spike-Jonze-esque journey into absurdity, or a mind-numbing Bergman-esque examination of the human condition.  Ultimately, it’s about food.  Yeah.  Or the transformative properties of food.  Or maybe it’s just about cooking food.  It feels like the kind of movie Anthony Bourdain would have loved, if that’s not being too presumptuous.

Once he gets a line on who the thieves might be, Rob convinces Amir to help him track them down by driving him into the city.  First stop is a sketchy-looking guy who rebuffs Rob’s request for information and asks Amir, “Do you even know his real name?”  That leads to a hidden restaurant under another restaurant where we learn Rob’s full name…a name that brings shock and awe to the eyes and faces of everyone who hears it.  Who is this guy?

One thing I noticed during this film was the great economy of the storytelling.  Scenes that might involve pages of dialogue in other movies are handled in seconds with either terse dialogue or sometimes none at all.  For example, there’s a scene in Amir’s apartment.  Rob wakes up on the couch to the sound of a fire alarm.  The camera tilts up and we see Amir standing on the counter trying to fan smoke away from the alarm.  Cut immediately to a kitchen table, Amir slides a plate in front of Rob, and he says sheepishly, “I don’t cook a lot.”  I can easily imagine that scene in some other movie involving a setup showing Amir trying to cook, burning something, trying to put the fire out, all very comic and probably well-done…but ultimately unnecessary.  Asking the viewer to do the occasional heavy lifting is not the worst thing in the world.  Pig is full of moments like this.  It’s a welcome change when it’s done right.

The screenplay is brilliant in other ways.  It convincingly leads you down one path where you think you can guess what’s about to happen, and then it throws a curveball or neatly sidesteps your expectations.  At least, it did mine.  Rob visits the house where he used to live, where he has a conversation with a small boy.  Where are the parents?  Who knows?  Doesn’t matter.  Amir talks about his family life, about his very successful father who doesn’t believe Amir can cut it in this business.  Later, there’s a scene where Rob and Amir cook a fancy meal for Amir’s father, and the dinner service for that food has a huge emotional payoff I did not expect, and which is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Is Pig a good movie just because it’s unique?  No.  But unique it is, and it is VERY good.  Cage gives one of his most understated performances in forever, so if you have been avoiding this one because you didn’t think you could take more Cage-ian histrionics, you don’t have to worry.  He’s very low-key.  There are a couple of moments where you can see the anger boiling deep within Rob, or when you might expect him to overturn a table or throw a glass of wine in someone’s face.  But it doesn’t happen, and that works for this unexpectedly touching film.

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