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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Pig (2021)

Pig offers an experience that you can’t really prepare yourself for. After reading the synopsis and watching the trailers, it still can’t quite truly prepare you for what unfolds in Michael Sarnoski’s directorial debut. This review won’t be able to do justice just how strangely and surprisingly cathartic and moving Pig turns out to be, and even though there is a multitude of reviews going about trying to limit your expectations, they still set up inaccurate ones that do the film a great disservice in the process, selling it as something it absolutely isn’t. Pig is NOT John Wick with a pig, despite what some people or even the trailer may suggest. Not even in the slightest. Pig is also NOT a cold-cut revenge thriller, despite what it may appear to set itself up to be. Instead, Sarnoski, with the aid of a magnificent Nicolas Cage, creates a touching, slow-burning character study on grief and loss. It's impossible to not go in blind on this, as it really does subvert any and all expectations from the plot and its notoriously unpredictable star in Nicolas Cage.

The plot is a simple one: Robin “Rob” Feld (Nicolas Cage) lives in seclusion with his beloved companion in Brandy, a truffle pig. But one evening, Rob is attacked in the middle of the night and Brandy is taken away from him. Rob, with the help of Amir (Alex Wolff), a young buyer of his truffles, go on a journey through the underbelly of the Portland food scene to find his pig.

So it’s a simple John Wick-type vengeance spree with Cage at his overstated, bat-shit best, right? As mentioned before, it couldn’t be further from this. There are no high-speed chase scenes, there are no gun and knife fights with an endless army of goons stopping Cage from getting to his four-legged pal, there is none of that. Instead, Pig opts for the road far-less traveled in the vengeance sub-genre and chooses to give us conflict and growth through grief, loss, friendship and the need for companionship that simmers beneath the surface. If you think you have cracked Nicolas Cage at this point, let me tell you, you really haven't, and if you have somehow forgotten how good he can be, Pig showcases Cage at his most nuanced, understated best that could quite possibly be the grandest performance of the year so far.

Sarnoski’s approach to Pig is to surprise us at every turn. This doesn’t mean that he throws implausible plot twists at us for funsies, instead, he surprises us with where he takes the film through genre, plot beats and smart character development. You think this is going to be a straightforward genre film? Think again. Although Pig has clear markers in effective plot beats through action and dialogue, the most powerfully succinct moments happen in the spaces between. These moments of quiet clarity (and mystery) drives the film's emotional and psychological tension to even greater heights that can't be achieved by just anyone. Sarnoski shows his hand at being able to curve the details to his liking, and thanks to Nicolas Cage's quiet resilience in maintaining the mystery of Rob, Pig manages to drive the film towards a destination that is impossible to truly predict as to how we will get there. There are no blindside reveals to each moment, but when new info is revealed to us, it happens in the most organic ways possible that reward our steady patience.

As mentioned before, this isn't a straightforward genre film. It dabbles in moments of absurdism, vengeance thriller tropes, a whodunnit mystery, and a deeply introspective character study. All of these work perfectly together to form sort of a surrealist dreamscape of sorrow, loss and the need for connection through companionship. The visual language of Pig is important in immersing the viewer deep within the film’s underlying themes and Rob’s character as a whole. Both earthy and cooler tones dominate in Pig's dream-like atmosphere, smothering us as we begin to sink deeper into Rob's sorrow and desperation, with each moment pushing us further away and closer to Brandy the pig. Pig never wants you to feel bad for Rob, but wants you to understand why he, no, why we need her back. He earns our adoration, after all, "No pig can do what she does".

Despite the film sporting an outstanding script that is simple and concise, Nicolas Cage’s commitment to the role is a thing of quiet breathless beauty that places it among the best of his career. Despite Cage’s unfairly earned reputation as an out-of-control performer through a slurry of hammy B-grade performances over a large portion of his career, people have seemed to have completely forgotten that he remains one of the finest talents of his generation, an undisputed genius that remains criminally underrated. It’s all about harnessing that raw, bat-shit energy to full effect. Moonstruck, Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart, Mandy, Bad Lieutenant: New Orleans, Adaptation and let’s not forget his Oscar-winning lead in Leaving Las Vegas, Cage has worked with some of the best directors around who have utilized his abilities to flip from understated to over-the-top cocaine energy, and finally to the perfect middle ground, with often thrilling results. But Cage is at his best when he is offered the chance to pull all that back and opt for subtlety. Subtle is not a word most people would often consider describing Nicolas Cage and his performances, but he has been able to pull it off with great sensitivity in the past. Thankfully, true to Pig’s form, Cage manages to subverts all the usual expectations placed upon him. It’s a considerate, assured performance riddled with grief and loss, slowly crawling towards its inevitable piece of personal confrontation. After all, the external conflict of the plot and with those around him is not what is important in Pig, it’s the internal battle he faces beneath the surface that is what the film is truly about. Alex Wolff is the orbiting moon to Cage’s celestial performance, appropriately revealing more to his troubled, tragic past as Rob’s heart begins showing more prominently on his sleeve. They’re perfectly in sync with each other, never out-doing each other in prioritizing their growth as characters and most importantly, as performers. Sarnoski deserves credit for allowing both Cage and Wolff to get to the crux of their characters so freely, as the film rightfully has an air of creative liberation around every corner worthy of savouring.

Pig not only introduces a fascinating talent in Michael Sarnoski to the world, but it rightfully reminds us of Nicolas Cage’s endless bag of tricks and talent he is not looking at throwing away any time soon. A nuanced work of supremely moving genius, Pig is a beautiful, funny, ugly and genuinely heartbreaking work. Don’t be surprised to see this among the very best films of the year that will be generating very vocal and deserved buzz for Nicolas Cage come awards season in 2022.

Where you can watch it: In theatres and available to rent online via Spectrum on Demand (USA)

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