Director: Michael Sarnoski
Stars: Alex Wolff, Nicolas Cage, Adam Arkin
While in the process of searching for his beloved truffle-hunting pig Apple, Rob (Nicolas Cage) visits an upmarket Portland restaurant with a ‘concept’. The hook at Eurydice is the “deconstruction” of local cuisine; a dismantling of ingredients that attempts to create something new in the process. Something exotic. Something different. It’s a hoity-toity gimmick and Rob sees right through it. Talking to the chef, whom he remembers from years gone by, Rob interrogates why the man abandoned his former dreams. In this scene, Michael Sarnoski’s much-touted feature debut feels as though it lifts itself above its own gimmicky concept, revealing something more thoughtful and soulful than one might’ve given it credit for.
At passing glance (and for about half its running time) Pig seems like a knowing dive into post-John Wick irony. A vengeance story about a stolen pig starring the inimitable Nicolas Cage. Undervalued thanks to his memeification across social media and a less-than-discerning approach to projects, Cage is too-often dismissed as a purveyor of kook. But the truth is he’s an often great performer and seasoned professional. The largess that comes with a Cage ‘freakout’ isn’t on the menu this time. Instead something smaller and more sincere is offered.
Though an aura of straight-faced absurdity does persist around him.
Rob lives in the Oregon woods, lives in his long-johns. He has deliberately separated himself from the modern world and all its vacuous gentrification. His sole contact is with a young, preppy entrepreneur, Amir (Alex Wolff); a yuppie who answers the question “what would Jason Schwatzman have looked like in the ’80s?” (this isn’t a period piece). When Rob’s prize pig is brutally snatched, Amir is the only person he can lean on for aid.
So begins a punishing re-entry for Rob. After over a decade of separation, he and the world aren’t particularly satisfied with one another. At its strangest, Pig takes us to an imagined underworld of fight clubs populated exclusively by caterers; suggestive of a widespread subculture inhabiting backrooms, basements and abandoned buildings across the city. With great economy, Sarnoski proffers us an impression of a world.
Rob refuses to scrub up for the city folk, wearing cuts on his face and blood in his beard as a kind of blasé war paint, emblematic of his objection to the world’s pretension. As his journey progresses we come to understand the man in spite of his monosyllabic lexicon. Indeed, it is in part his silences that speak for him the loudest. We come to realise that Pig isn’t as straight-forward as a man looking for his porcine friend (though it most certainly is that). It’s also about reconciling loss and damage and how you piece yourself together afterward. It’s about how, as you get older, you grow more into who you’re supposed to be.
This is why, when Rob sees the chef from his old days operating a sham dining experience, he calls him out on it. For Rob, selling-out isn’t so much offensive as it is a tragedy. As the man says, “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about”.
While Pig tries (and often succeeds at) subverting expectations, there’s an inherent sense of mocking involved that sometimes works against its purpose. Placing Rob’s hobo-like personage in the midst of fine dining socialites or having him shuffle through some hipster courtyard comes off as oddly loaded. The film sometimes wants to have it’s cake and eat it. Impress you with how sincere it is, but also have you laugh at its fish-out-of-water weirdness, too. This two-tiered approach to tone is both skillful and a little exasperating. Like it’s being a shade too clever for its own good. This sense of undercutting means that its rewards are a little fleeting.
Much has already been said about how effective Cage is with this scaled-back yet still very physical performance, and for good reason, but lets take a moment to sing the praises of his co-star here. Alex Wolff is just as impressive as Rob’s slippery sidekick Amir. From the tapes in his car guiding him into an appreciation for classical music to his very self-aware daddy issues, Amir is a fragile person trying to appear tough; and seeking that veneer in superficiality. He’s a deliberately contrasting figure when set beside Rob, and their jostle over the car stereo wordlessly speaks volumes. But it is Wolff’s commitment to a character that might’ve been a joke that makes it work exceedingly well. Pig is really a two-hander. It requires Cage and Wolff to work.