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Film Review: Pig

1 September 21

Nicolas Cage quietly shines in Michael Sarnoski’s lonely anti-revenge drama…

Director: Michael Sarnoski
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
Running time: 92 minutes

There is a gross misconception in popular culture that Nicolas Cage is not a good actor. Yes, his performance in The Wicker Man is bombastic and silly and yes, you do roll your eyes when he says with a straight face that he’s going “to steal the Declaration of Independence” in his trademark husky whisper. But he’s been the key to making so many great films work, from David Lynch’s fiery masterpiece Wild at Heart to a double-role in Charlie Kaufman’s self-reflexive, self-deprecating Adaptation.

His leading role in Mandy, Panos Cosmatos’ outlandishly brilliant revenge thriller from 2018, anchored the film’s craziest sequences and Cosmatos wasted none of Cage’s unrestrainable energy, of which he seems to never run out. Certainly, the film would not be complete without Andrea Riseborough’s hauntingly memorable performance as his eponymous doomed lover, Mandy, or Linus Roache’s as the Manson-esque leader of a murderous, drugged-out cult, but it’s a film that only a performer like Cage can carry. 

Pig is much the same, though totally different. Cage’s deeply melancholic performance is as brilliant as his turn in Mandy for almost the exact opposite reasons, heralding an unignorable late-career resurgence for Cage as a prestigious indie film star. 

Set in the modern wilderness of Oregon – with scenery that’s immediately reminiscent of this year’s First CowPig follows Robin, a former big city chef who now lives as a truffle hunter (played by Cage), leading a peaceful life with his foraging sow, Apple (played by Brandy). He sells what he finds to businessman Amir (Alex Wolff), who drives in from the city and interrupts the serenity with his loud Camaro.

Cage proves himself as one of his generation’s finest actors

In the dead of night, intruders break in, knock Robin unconscious and kidnap Apple. With his unkempt hair and beard tinged with blood, he sets out as soon as he wakes to get her back home safe. While it may sound like the perfect set-up for a quick and easy action film, Pig is everything but. Robin doesn’t fill the role of a sort of Marco Pierre Wick (if you will), instead carrying the weight of loneliness and the fear of loss around on his shoulders, as he shuffles slowly and quietly through his quest. 

It is an achingly sad film. There is no violence, no bloodshed; Sarnoski instead moulds his debut around a resonant meditation on our increasingly suffocated connections to others. With his business partner Amir helping him as a driver, Robin returns to the city he left behind years ago, coming face to face with old colleagues who have lost themselves to the artifice of trendy cooking and struggle to continue on as husks of their former selves. “We don’t get many things to really care about,” Robin remarks to a former employee, whose idealistic dreams of owning a pub have been dashed by years imprisoned in a culture that rejects anything homegrown or simplistic. 

Sarnoski’s filmmaking embodies those two values. There is nothing grand about the film’s style. Working from the sparse script he shares a co-writing credit on with Vanessa Block, Sarnoski is quick to refuse the revenge sub-genre, telling instead a muscular yet tender, almost fragile, story of grieving and isolation. The film is gorgeously shot in warm, comforting hues by cinematographer Patrick Scola, and one of this year’s standout moments is in a simple scene of two people preparing food in a rustic kitchen. It’s an earthy experience, as if it were put together by hand. 

But Pig won’t be for everyone. If you’re looking for something that will offer a traditionally satisfying and climactic trip to the movies, you may be turned off by Pig’s sullen outlook and mournful tone. It moves at a slow pace, offering little in terms of narrative, but its calm, meditative rhythm has a beautifully mesmerising quality to it. Those who doubt Cage’s acting skills may also not like what they find, as the wild-eyed actor proves himself – once more – as one of his generation’s finest actors. 

Did you know? Early drafts of the film saw the story set in both Spain and France, before they settled on Portland, Oregon.

Pig is in cinemas now

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