It’s a tale as old as time: a man has his most cherished possession brutally and unjustly taken from him and will stop at nothing to get it back. Countless films over the years have followed this basic template – some to good effect, some not so much – but it’s hard to recall one that has taken quite the same approach as Pig, the debut feature from director Michael Sarnoski.
The new film – which arrives in UK cinemas on Friday 20th August – sees Nicolas Cage star as Robin Feld, a bedraggled recluse living in an almost fairytale-like cottage in the Oregon wilderness, whose quiet existence is upended when his treasured truffle pig is stolen by mystery assailants.
Desperate to reclaim the prized animal, Robin makes a rare trip back to Portland – where it soon emerges he was once a celebrated chef – alongside his younger and more perky companion Amir (played by Alex Wolff), and the pair confront various members of the city’s foodie scene in order to find the whereabouts of the missing hog.
If that sounds like the plot for a crazed action flick, or perhaps an absurdist comic romp, then you should know that this is actually something altogether different: a rather sombre, sullen film that deals fairly profoundly with loss, grief and meaning.
It’s easy to understand why viewers might go to the film with certain assumptions. Cage is hardly known for his acting restraint after all, and even in his most acclaimed performances – Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart, Adaptation etc – there’s oftentimes a rather madcap energy at play. But the Cage on show here is far more still and considered, rarely indulging in the kind of showboating with which he’s often associated, and yet still delivering a very memorable performance.
When we first meet Robin, he’s virtually wordless – treating Amir, a restaurant supplier who buys his truffles, with little patience. And when he does speak, the sound is fittingly more akin to the grunt of a pig than to expressive human speech, rarely muttering more words than is absolutely necessary. But the bond between Robin and the pig is wonderfully portrayed in just a few short scenes in these early stages, especially in one moment in which the animal rushes to his side to comfort him as he prepares to listen to a mystery tape – the significance of which will become apparent later on.
As the film continues the mystery behind Robin slowly unravels, and we learn more and more about the character and the circumstances that led to him abandoning city life and forming such a deep connection with the pig. The confrontation scenes that regularly punctuate the action rarely play out as you’d expect them, serving as chances for the characters to have discussions about topics deeper than just the location of the missing animal.
One of the film’s undoubted highlights is a scene in which Robin eviscerates his former pasta chef, now the head honcho of a trendy restaurant called Eurydice, with a monologue about selling out that gets right to the heart of the film’s message. “You wanted to open a pub,” he tells him before launching into a tirade about the meaninglessness of his restaurant. “None of it is real,” he says, “Because you aren’t real.” Unsurprisingly, the chef crumbles.
There are several moments like this, and the more we learn about Robin the more sympathetic a character he becomes. When he reveals to Amir that he doesn’t actually need the pig for her foraging ability – he can find the truffles well enough himself – but rather just because he so values the companionship she offers him, it’s very hard not to be moved. “I love her,” he tells him – and you don’t doubt the sincerity for a minute. The film’s final stages are equally affecting, and when Robin – back in his cottage – listens to the aforementioned tape in the final scene, some audience members will have a hard job holding back tears.
Pig, then, is a very touching, but undoubtedly rather gloomy film, and one that certainly makes for a very rewarding watch. Just don’t go in expecting some kind of high-octane revenge thriller – this is not the film that you might expect based on its plot synopsis, or Cage’s back catalogue.