Pig review – Thank you for not calling it “Piggyback”

Pig review – Thank you for not calling it “Piggyback”

If you can, try to go into Pig as blind as possible. Try not to read too much about it, and maybe even consider avoiding the trailer if you haven’t already seen it. This isn’t to say that any of the marketing is particularly spoilery, or that the movie has any unexpected plot surprises. It’s just that the pleasures contained within Pig are best discovered in the moment. It’s one of those special movies that defies accurate description in terms of tone, structure, and intention. You sort of know what it is, but you’ll never understand the full breadth of what it is until you see it. I went in blind on the promise of the concept alone (Nic Cage wants his pig back), and I’m glad I did.

I’ll do my best to preserve the same experience for you.

Cage plays Rob, a mysterious backwoods loner whose survival is dependent upon the sale of truffles – truffles that it seems only he has the ability to find, via the snout of his adorable pet pig. Rob is dirty, brooding, and dismissive to the point of never having to suffer fools. His only relationship outside of he and his pig is the one he shares with Amir (Alex Wolff), the hotshot restaurant rep who provides Rob’s truffles to the eateries under his purview. Amir is very different from Rob. He’s wears a sharp suit, drives a hot car, and barks orders to associates on his mobile phone. It’s clear that he’s showered at some point in the last decade. Rob cannot make that claim.

One night, a couple of faceless intruders break into Rob’s cabin and violently kidnap his pig. Upon waking from a blow to the head Rob decides he will do everything in his power to get his pig back, not because she’s his source of income, but because she is family. And as we learned from Dominic Toretto, you do not turn your back on family. Certainly not when they’re this damned adorable. My god is the pig cute.

It’s impossible to write a review of a Nic Cage movie without it turning into a study of the man, the myth, the legend. He’s the rare breed of actor who seems perfectly aware of his thing, but is so earnest about his thing that it never quite jumps the shark (no love lost to Christopher Walken, but when his thing became a thing, it stopped being fun). The Nic Cage we get in Pig is very on brand, but it’s not the Nic Cage one would reasonably expect in a “Nic Cage wants his pig back” movie. His bold acting choices are all fully in play, but they’re in service of a more insular character. We don’t get a spasmodic Cage or even a twitchy one. Instead we get a portrait of a true outsider. Rob is not a man of many words, but his words are daggers, thrust forth with a quiet, simmering rage.

His mission to retrieve his beloved bovine takes many forms. It’s a march through the seedy underbelly of the restaurant industry (not the Applebee’s wing, but rather those snooty high end places with names like Tâstë). It’s a character study on grief. It’s a culture clash comedy that places a man who looks and presumably smells like hiker’s corpse, inside a pretentious world with a much younger, much more image-conscious right hand man.

And, of course, it’s a “Nic Cage wants his pig back” movie.

Writer/director Michael Sarnoski (co-written by Vanessa Block), gets a lot of mileage out of small details, while avoiding in-depth explanations of some of the more startling elements of the story. For example, we only meet one fellow truffle hunter/saleswoman through the entire film. We see her reaction to the pignapping and are quickly made to understand the code of honor that exists amongst their community. What we don’t get is an explanation of the business itself. We don’t need it. It’s not important. Another example is when Rob involves himself in one of the more violent underworld activities within the food scene. It’s clear that what we’re seeing is a well established practice with its own rules and logic, but such things are not explained. We don’t need them explained. Instead we see how those involved in the scene react to Rob’s presence. We see how the assumed rules are shifted to accommodate the urgency of Rob’s hunt. We see, just through simple visual blocking, how Rob physically stacks up against others in his world. Both on screen and on the page, we are only ever given just enough information. Always enough, never too much.

Alex Wolff does a wonderful job carrying the more vocal emotional weight of the film. For every single word Rob mutters, Wolff’s Amir monologues dozens. Only occasionally do these moments threaten to become baldly expositional, but due to Wolff’s layered, emotive performance, and the confident tone of the film at large, this line is never crossed. The overall feel of Pig is evocative of “indie” film, back in the ’90s when “indie” started to feel like a genre unto itself rather than a descriptor of a film’s financial sources. What I mean is that the style/substance ratio favors style, but only because the substance half of the equation unspools like a fairy tale. Such a thing, if handled poorly, could rob the film of real world urgency. Alas, here it is handled wonderfully, and the lightly fantastical mechanism of the script complements the film’s tone to a T. It’s not the real world, but it’s not not the real world. Where it differs from the “indie” descriptor, as I used it above, is that Pig doesn’t actively know it’s a movie. I hope that makes sense and I don’t sound pretentious. And if I do, kick rocks.

While I don’t want to give details on his role in the story, I couldn’t possibly tender a review of Pig without throwing some credit to Adam Arkin, who scared the bejeesus out of me in just a few short scenes. His small role has a huge presence, and he wields it with considerable power.

At the end of the day, what struck me most about Pig is how deeply moving it is. To center a movie around a character so cynical, so disinterested in anything outside of his own experience, and then not give us any reason why until much later in the film is a strong, risky choice, and it’s one that pays off in droves. My cynical heart grew three sizes.

A final note: our hero drives a truck so old that it mostly sounds like a pig when being driven. That is all.

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