Nicolas Cage does a lot of bad movies that seem deeply questionable for a man who is not only a talented actor, but one who has been part of some of the greatest movies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. And yet when you see him leading films like Primal, Kill Chain, A Score to Settle, and Running with the Devil that all come out in a single year (2019) and evaporate as quickly as they hit VOD, you’re left to wonder what exactly he’s doing with his career other than cashing paychecks. And that’s a shame because then a film like Pig comes along and gets grouped into that kind of movie when it’s far more than its simple logline of “Reclusive man goes looking for his stolen pig.” Rather than the scenery-chewing Cage that folks claim they like to see, this is the Cage of quieter movies like Joe with a largely soft-spoken performance that shows Cage still knows how to bring it when the picture demands that kind of work from him. Michael Sarnoski’s movie is a sad, melancholy affair of grasping for the last remnants of the things that matter in a world where we have so little to hang on to.
Rob (Cage) is a recluse living in the woods outside of Portland with his truffle-hunting pig. It’s a quiet existence where his only contact with the outside world is the brash, egotistical Amir (Alex Wolff), a young man who drives up in his bright yellow Camaro every Thursday to purchase truffles from Rob. In the middle of the night, unknown assailants break into Rob’s cabin, knock him out, and steal his pig. Bloody and beaten, Rob ventures out and requires Amir to be his ride. A reluctant Amir, who’s working to be a part of Portland’s restaurant scene and sees truffles as a valuable asset in that ascent, decides he has no choice to cart Rob around on his quest. As they go searching, Amir learns that Rob is far more than some hermit looking for a pig, and that his search isn’t just about looking for a creature that can dig up truffles.
I worry about a film like Pig because it’s technically a Nicolas Cage vehicle while being far different than most of his recent output. If I told someone the logline, I wouldn’t be surprised if they expected Cage to be shouting and beating people up looking for his pig. Basically, they would think it could be John Wick but a pig instead of a puppy. Pig is not that movie. Cage doesn’t punch anyone. He rarely raises his voice. Instead, Cage reminds us that while he can bring delightful lunacy in movies like Mandy, when he exercises restraint he can really burrow into a character as he does here. Rob is one of his more fascinating roles and the story of Pig isn’t so much about finding the pig (although that’s the plot that moves the story along) as much as it’s about Amir (and the audience) discovering what would drive someone like Rob to live removed from society while also feeling the need to break that seclusion to find a pig.
Sarnoski frames this quest beautifully with gorgeous cinematography that also highlights Rob’s psyche, particularly throught the motif of doorframes. Rob is a man who has consciously left a domestic, settled existence and chosen to live on a semblance of the frontier. His last human relationship is with Amir, and it’s a tenuous one where the two men don’t really know each other, and yet while Rob has utmost certainty in his current existence, Amir is constantly putting on a show to mask his own insecurities. This conflict further highlights Rob’s worldview as a man who can’t be part of our world because it’s simply too fleeting and he’s already lost what mattered most to him. As Pig unfolds, we can see that the pig is the last thing that Rob truly loves in this world and even that has been taken from him despite his simple existence. Pig is not a story of revenge, but one of loss.
Some may find Pig a disappointment because it’s not Cage going wild searching for a lost pig, but that would be a disservice to both Cage’s work here and Sanroski’s film overall. We need to make room for Cage still doing these kinds of roles and cheer for them when he does. There’s no sign Cage will stop doing his forgettable VOD work, and look, I’m not going to begrudge the man his money, especially when he still finds time to do good work like Pig, Mandy, and Joe. I’ll admit it’s weird to say, “The movie about Nicolas Cage looking for his lost pig made me sad and anxious about our fragile place in the world and forced me to look at what I truly value in a chaotic and unpredictable universe,” but that’s the truth. Pig is not the film we’ve come to expect from Cage these days. Thank goodness.
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