A genuine surprise of a picture, Michael Sarnoski’s feature debut “Pig” is a slow but careful gaze at the devastation of loss. Nicolas Cage’s restrained performance startles with its effectiveness, as he portrays a deeply broken man just trying to get by. Alex Wolff pairs wonderfully with Cage to bring us a painful yet thoughtful film.
A truffle hunter (Nicolas Cage) who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness must return to his past, searching for his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped.
Those of you expecting a wild and violent film may be a little disappointed here. Sure there are some brutal moments throughout “Pig”, but for the most part, the brutality comes from a verbal place. Rob continually breaks people down with his words, all of which is centred in truth from this mysterious philosophical man. As a result, what we have here in Michael Sarnoski’s film is a far more sensitive piece than you would initially think.
Cage pulls out a classic non-stereotypical Cage performance as the bearded recluse Rob. Instead of the big and bombastic performances that we often see from the actor, he turns in a more nuanced performance. One that allows his wealth of talent to truly shine, whether or not Sarnoski tamed him to bring us this performance is up for debate, but rest assured, this is some of Cage’s best work for quite some time. Instead of making a storm as his character, he stews as you watch a character think not of every word he utters but of every physical action. It is such a careful performance here that it takes time to realise how layered the performance is.
Sarnoski knows all too well the magnetism of Cage and makes sure to have him in as many of the frames as possible. Yet, a word does need to be shared about the strong performance of Alex Wolff as Rob’s truffle buyer Amir. This is just as an assured performance and one that he can add to his continually glowing resume. You can never pull away from either him or Cage in “Pig”, and for a good reason, they seem to challenge one another in a terrific way to push the film forward.
Loss is a central theme to “Pig” obviously, after reading that synopsis, you might say, but it is more than that. Loss is omnipresent throughout the film because we have almost been where Rob is for most people. Losing a loved one is hard, and you lose a large portion of yourself in the tangle of grief. Be it a partner, parent or friend, once that person is gone, something is missing, stolen from your soul, and it will never be the same again. Some like Rob need a clean (or not so clean) break away from it all; others stagger through, trying to adjust to this new greyer world. Rob places all of his love and companionship into his pig; it means more to him as it is his anchor in this world. So to take that away is catastrophic for his wellbeing.
The emptiness within Rob and Amir, and in truth with an awful lot of the cast we encounter, is striking. We know Rob’s emptiness concerning the death of his wife and Amir’s with his fraught relationship with his father and the loss of his mother. Yet, Rob can highlight that missing spark or piece within them with other characters they encounter. A rather telling scene in a restaurant of one of his protégé’s symbolises this perfectly. Doing very well for himself, the new chef has a wonderful restaurant. Yet, as Rob points out, this is totally against what the chefs dream where when they worked together. Hence, the query of if you sacrifice your dream to become a success, can you say you are truly happy. It is philosophical, which is the great thing about “Pig”; it takes little moments and resonates with its audience.
Much like the performances, patience and carefulness litter Sarnoski’s debut feature. He makes sure his audience feels every bit of emotional pain in “Pig”, and trust me, there is plenty to go around. Purposely slow and methodical, yet touching simultaneously, he leaves us with no doubt that we need to see more of his work in the future. Nevertheless, Sarnoski delivers a fine and memorable film. Of course, there are faults within “Pig”, but they never rear their head enough for you to fully notice due to the strength of the performances and the care in the presentation.
It is often forgotten how good an actor Nicolas Cage can be if presented with the right material. Here in “Pig”, Sarnoski gave him a wonderful story, and Cage loved it enough to not only star but produce. This is a quiet performance from the actor that dials back everything you expect of him, and it is glorious to witness.
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