We should all know by now that I’m an easy mark for Nicolas Cage films. When Willy’s Wonderland was released earlier this year, I saw it purely for some Nic Cage goodness. What can I say? I know what I like, and what I like is Nic Cage, lest you forget the man is an Oscar-winning actor. And I knew for a fact that when Pig was announced, I was already in. I had a perfect image in my head. Nic Cage, looking like a deranged Unibomber, hunting the fools who dared to steal his pet pig.
I’m sure by that premise alone, an image of what the movie is like popped into your head. Nic Cage in a John Wick-style film. Sometimes entering a movie with certain expectations will doom your enjoyment if it doesn’t match up 100% with the reality you pre-built for yourself. So no, Pig is not John Wick meets Nic Cage, nor does it attempt to be like that.
Instead, what we get is even better.
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Release Date: July 16, 2021 (Theatrical)
Rob (Nic Cage) is a recluse living in a forest with his pet pig. He’s a truffle hunter living a very basic life and keeps to himself, save the forced interaction he has to have with his truffle buyer, Amir (Alex Wolff). Amir is a smug up-and-coming restauranteur who only cares about appearances and nice cars. One night, however, thieves invade Rob’s cabin, steal his pig, and knock him out. When he wakes, he calls up Amir and forces him to go on a one-track path to reclaim his precious pig.
Pig is a movie that is deceptively simple. On the surface, the movie’s basic premise helps to immediately connect audiences to our central character. Like in Mandy, Nic Cage’s motivation is straightforward and to the point. In that film, cultists killed his wife, so he wants revenge. Here, he wants his pig back. Why? Well, it’s his pet. That’s all there really is to it. That’s probably where the John Wick similarities come from because the inciting incident in both cases is simple to understand. Who wouldn’t want to do anything for their pet, bovine or not?
But the actual journey to find his pig is one that is intense, if only for just how good of a performance Cage gives. I’m tempted to say he’s a man of few words, but the moments where he speaks are so layered and complex that you’re mesmerized by how he just commands the screen. A scene in a restaurant about halfway through the film has Cage systematically break down an employee he used to work with using nothing but his tone and choice of words, hitting the employee to the core, forcing him to realize that his life up until now is hollow and meaningless. It never becomes as intense as Mandy, but it reminds you that, yes, this man has an Oscar for a reason.
We’re like Amir, his partner on this adventure, just sitting back and wondering who the hell this guy even is. He’s an enigmatic man, one who went off the grid 15 years ago and leaves you to piece together just why. Not glorifying him, the movie also asks if it’s even important to know. How does knowing about his history alter our perception of his mission? It doesn’t. Pig isn’t a character study. Rob may be our main character, but the movie isn’t about who he is and why he has the reputation he does. Yes, it does inform us about why he made the decisions he did, but they’re not essential. They only become a factor at the very end as a remark made by Amir’s father during a moment of bonding.
This is a journey that isn’t pleasant. There are tears that will be shed, not just from unraveling Rob’s past, but also seeing how Amir tries to come to terms with his emotionally distant father (Adam Arkin). Pig is also a film examing how people deal with grief, usually by isolating themselves from others, either figuratively or literally. You can’t help but feel bad for everyone by the end of the film, understanding why they made the choices that they made or how they come to terms with the problems life threw at them.
There are some ridiculous moments sprinkled about to lighten the mood. I never thought I would see an underground fight club for cooks in Portland, but it’s here, and we get one of the most glorious Nic Cage freakouts I’ve seen in years. Those moments don’t really define the film insomuch as offer up a variety of moods to help break the dourness, though. At times it felt like I was watching No Country For Old Men with how understated and pointed certain scenes were, and I mean that as a high form of praise.
Pig does not waste your time in the 90 minutes that it has. Each moment lasts just long enough to drive home the message, and your heart will break for its cast at least once during this experience. Pig should not be as emotionally effective as it is, but its simplicity, muted soundtrack, and small cast elevate what could have been a hammy B-movie fit for a VOD release to something special. It’s artful and makes me feel like a fool for expecting it to be an action revenge flick.
With people returning to cinemas in droves, while it is good to see the big blockbusters and action movies that keep theaters open, it’s also important to see the little indie dramas that usually go unwatched. Theaters need diversity and if there’s going to be one indie drama you see this summer, make it Pig. It’s moving in a way that will take you by surprise and immediately draw you into its world of pigs, chefs, and loss. I cannot recommend Pig enough to anyone who is willing to give it a chance.