Sunday, January 16, 2022

REVIEW: Pig




With a recent filmography that includes such pulpy genre fare as "Mandy" and "Bad Lietenant: Port of Call New Orleans" it's safe to say that Nicolas Cage's reputation for starring in b-movies precedes him. When the trailer premiered for Michael Sarnoski's "Pig" was first released therefore, it drew immediate comparisons to the avenging, animal-loving "John Wick" franchise. But while the basic premise may bear similarities, "Pig" is an altogether different beast, cutting deeper for a more understated and moving drama about loss.

Indeed, "Pig" begins far from the urban jungle of John Wick's New York, where retired chef Robin Feld lives in the woods of Oregon with his trusty truffle pig. Living a simple life enjoying his favorite home-cooked meals with his animal companion, the rare human interaction comes from weekly visits from Amir (Alex Wolff), a young businessman to whom he supplies truffles for the city's restaurant industry. Their cordial arrangement is upended one night, however, when thieves kick down Robin's door and steal his beloved pig. Determined to recover her, Robin is forced to return to the urban world he left behind, uncovering a dangerous and intricate underground network of dealers fueled by greed.

The cliche follow-up to this setup would be that our grizzled protagonist will do "whatever it takes" to get his pig back. And indeed, Feld does find himself in a "dog eat dog" world. But Sarnoski throws the first of many surprises as Feld quickly reveals a more subdued approach to his mission. Even as he teases the imposing threat of the film's assortment of unscrupulous characters, the violence is kept to a minimum. As such, "Pig" is an anti-action movie of sorts.

Instead, the film finds its rhythm in more existential concerns about the fleeting, precious nature of genuine human connections and the life-affirming memories which accompany them. From lovingly cooked meals, to the characters' favorite songs, the film embraces a sentimentality that beautifully counters the gritty tensions underlying capitalist greed. And through this approach, he peels back the layers of these characters like onions. Most impressively, it allows Nicholas Cage to showcase his range, as he portrays the nuanced dramatic thespian and impulsive tough guy with equal aplomb. 

Indeed, Cage's melancholic chef sets a tone that brilliantly juxtaposes tenderness and worldly rigor, cooking up the right recipe for one of the most rewarding films of the year. "Pig" truly subverts expectations at every turn, with its bleak visual aesthetic and premise masking a deeply humane film. I look forward to whatever Michael Sarnoski does next.

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