At first glance, Pig could seem like Nicolas Cage’s turn to do a Liam Neeson or Keanu Reeves-type role. Just by reading the short IMDb synopsis — “A truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped,” it seems like this would be a classic action revenge plot. But it’s not that at all. In fact, it basically uses the Taken, John Wick, and Nobody type of story to subvert your expectations and make something subdued and sincere that creates an air of loss and love.
Nicolas Cage is incredible in this movie. He has a reputation for going over the top with his performances, but if this was the only movie of his you’d ever seen, that reputation would make little sense. Here, he is quiet and subdued and much of the performance is internal. He begins the movie in his secluded forest cabin, all alone save for his pig. Amir (Alex Wolff) comes every Thursday to collect Robin’s (Cage) truffles to sell them to high-end restaurants, but Robin doesn’t interact with him even five percent more than he needs to.
Robin’s so secluded because when his wife passed away, it caused him to lose his passion for his restaurant, where he was head chef. His only remaining companion is his pig, whom he loves more than anything else. Even when he can’t play the final song recording his wife left for him, he always has his pig to turn back to. But once the pig is abducted in the night by faceless strangers, Robin is forced to work closely with Amir, his only real contact, to recover the pig.
Amir’s reintroduction makes this movie that much better than it already was. He’s introduced as a cocky rich kid until it’s revealed that he does have at least a bit of a heart. And that heart begins to open up as he spends more time really getting to know Robin. They talk about their pasts and their current mindsets and how those together inform why they’re going after the pig at all.
In addition, Wolff delivers the best performance I’ve seen from him. His most notable movies to date are probably Hereditary and M. Night Shyamalan’s Old, both of which are very intense and put Wolff’s characters in terrifying positions physically. They, like many of Cage’s roles, gave him the chance to show off how much he can emote. But in Pig, I was shown that he’s capable of holding his own in more than horror or horror-adjacent movies. Again, like Cage, much of Wolff’s performance is internal and under the surface.
Of course, performances on their own don’t mean much without a good story behind them, and I absolutely love the way Pig plays with how this type of story usually comes across. There are only two scenes with any kind of action — one is just Robin being knocked over when his pig is stolen and the other is at a secret underground fight club. And the latter is much more of an emotional scene than an action-packed one. This movie understands what movies like Taken don’t (not to mention the fact that it’s a completely different genre), and that’s the motivation behind why the characters go after what they go after.
Robin explains his worldview and how it informs his need and desire to find this pig. In the middle of one of the two best scenes of the movie, Robin encounters a former employee who might know something about where the pig is. In the 15 years since Robin was his boss, this employee has opened a trendy restaurant that serves fancy foods and is impossible to get a reservation at, but his dream was always to open a pub. Robin chides him for ever giving up on this dream and spending what little time and energy he has doing something he doesn’t love. He tells the chef, “we don’t get a lot of things to really care about.” And this line sits heavily in the air and absolutely permeates the rest of the movie. It then begins to infiltrate the thoughts and actions of the people with whom Robin comes in contact.
This is director Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut and he absolutely knocked it out of the park. He made a movie that is gentle, yet rough, cutting, yet humorous, and heartbreaking, yet uplifting. It’s basically an impossible line to walk, yet he does it without error. At its core, Pig is a story about loss and coping, but it’s also about how those can work together to bring about new emotions and possibilities in your life. This is a film that came out of nowhere to floor me and will stick around among my favorites for the remainder of the year.