Neon and Nicolas Cage. There’s a match I would watch any day of the week. Neon has earned its reputation as one of the industry’s top distributors of independent films. The 57-year-old Cage churns out movies at an astounding rate. Case in point – in a two year period (2018-2019) he was in a whopping fourteen movies. FOURTEEN! Some may say he’s been slacking as of late, starring in only three movies this year, “Prisoners of the Ghostland”, “Willy’s Wonderland”, and his latest, “Pig”.
Written and directed by Michael Sarnoski, “Pig” is a surprisingly textured drama about a man looking for his stolen pig. Of course, as you might expect, there is more to it than that and Sarnoski uses this somewhat simply premise to explore a variety of themes. Most importantly there is an undercurrent of humanity that resonates through the entire film. We see it most in Cage’s performance which is a welcomed reminder that with the right material he’s still a really good actor with an Academy Award on his mantle.
Set in the Pacific Northwest, the movie opens by introducing us to Cage’s character, a recluse living off the grid in an old shack in the woods. Seeing his rumpled clothes, scruffy beard and long unkempt hair, it may be tempting to make certain judgments about the man. But there’s more to him than meets the eye and Sarnoski takes his time revealing the soul underneath the thick mane and blank solemn stare. He’s not an easy man to read, but he’s fascinating to watch thanks to Sarnoski’s patience and Cage’s quiet intensity.
The man, who we later learn is named Robin, lives all alone except for his faithful companion, a plump truffle-hunting pig. Robin’s one connection to the human world is Amir (Alex Wolff), a snarky twentysomething who comes by once a week bringing supplies in exchange for truffles (a surprisingly lucrative ingredient within the culinary world).
Robin’s quiet secluded life is rattled when two thugs armed with lead pipes bust into his cabin during the dead of night, knock him out, and steal his pig. When he finally comes to he wastes no time resolving to get back his porcine pal. A battered Robin pulls the tarp off his beat-up pickup truck and heads out. But his cabin is barely out of sight before the truck sputters to a stop. So he walks several miles to a roadside diner where he calls Amir to come pick him up. From their the two polar opposites head to Portland where Robin is forced to reconnect with a past that he has spent 15 years trying to forget. Anything for his pig.
When the trailer for “The Pig” came out it left a lot of people wondering what kind of movie it would be. I remember reading all kinds of speculation. A few wondered if it could be some kind of dark fairytale; others saw it as a John Wick-styled revenge flick. Even in the movie itself Sarnoski does a good job keeping his audience in the dark, letting his story play out to a slow boil and his main character gradually come to light.
But you shouldn’t bring along any genre expectations. At its core “The Pig” is a thoughtful and introspective character study of a complex man seemingly broken and full of pent-up emotion. We do learn a few details along the way such as he was once a renowned Portland chef with a photographic memory. “I remember every meal I ever cooked. I remember every person I ever served.” And there are hints of a past love mostly concealed on an old cassette tape labeled “For Robin” that he can’t bring himself to play.
Yet there’s a lot we never learn, and as much as I love the film’s restraint we never really get to know Robin. There’s also a side story with Amir and his father (Adam Arkin) that’s desperate for more attention which never quite comes. These things hold the film back and keep us from fully connecting with the characters. But there’s still a lot to like about “Pig” and it’s great to see a subdued Nicolas Cage really lose himself in a role. I was completely absorbed in Robin’s journey and Sarnoski fully earns our empathy despite not fully satisfying our curiosity. “Pig” hits theaters this Friday (July 16th).