While expecting a John Wick-style revenge thriller, first-time director Michael Sarnoski’s Pig turns into a meditative study on grief and the underground world of truffle hunting, featuring a wondrously subdued Nicholas Cage performance.
Cage stars as Robin “Rob” Feld, a former chef turned forest recluse following the death of his wife. Living in the wilderness, Rob makes due by foraging for truffles with his truffle pig. Rob sells his truffles to Amir, who exchanges them for groceries. One night, Rob is violently attacked and his pig is stolen. Rob then sets out with Amir’s help to retrieve his pig from whomever stole it.
The plot developments and general tone provide an expectation of a revenge thriller. But Sarnoski doesn’t have that in mind. Instead, the journey of Rob and Amir finds them in the grimy underworld of the Portland restaurant scene. It dives into the world of truffle sales, restaurant worker fight clubs and overly-trendy appetizers.
Many reviews have compared this to the films of Kelly Reichardt. Despite the cliché, it’s a perfect encapsulation of everything that transpires. The images of a beaten down Rob are not due to bruising fights, but rather achieving his ends by whatever necessary means. The film doesn’t make any illusions that Rob would kill to get pig back. He just wants it back. All the implications of violence lie with the audience.
Wolff is almost a co-lead, starting as a tag-along on for Rob’s adventure, before eventually turning into a confidant. His performance hinges on his assumed machismo but his realized lack thereof. He has an exceptional scene where he rehearses an aggressive sales pitch in the mirror to completely change his delivery and approach when the customer is actually there. He plays a wonderful counterpoint to the main character.
Cage is nothing short of brilliant. His larger-than-life persona is muted as a man who is beyond rejoining society. He takes careful pride in the things he does and never rushes to a decision. Every decision Cage makes in the film simultaneously plays into and directly against his own persona. About once a decade, Cage delivers such indelible performances, that it makes his numerous paycheck roles all the more frustrating.
The film is shot with minimal lighting in the woods, but it isn’t married to its darker aesthetic. Once the action moves to Portland, the colors grow brighter as the daylight pours in. The score and music choices all feel married to the film while an overarching appreciation for culinary arts permeates the acts. In fact, the three acts of the film are subtitled with meals that play roles in the plot.
Together, Sarnoski, Cage and Wolff deliver one of the best films of the year. Check your expectations at the door and let Pig wash over you. You won’t regret it.