In this tightly crafted character study, Nicolas Cage takes on the role of a solitary truffle hunter.
Nicolas Cage isn’t Just an Actor; He’s a State of Mind.
The Oscar winner gives his strongest performance in years as a chef-turned-recluse who temporarily reenters society in “Pig,” written and directed by Michael Sarnoski. The actor has transcended meme reputation with evocative performances in director-driven genre fare like “Mandy” and “Color Out of Space.”
Even though Robin (Cage) eventually comes back from the Oregon woods, he does so only because someone forcibly takes his truffle pig from him. More of a character study than a revenge thriller, “Pig” serves mostly as a reminder that Cage is one of the most gifted and brave actors of our time.
Robin’s week consists of foraging for truffles with his pig once a week when his only outside contact (Alex Wolff) visits, followed by numerous delicious dinners and peaceful times. It’s clear from the outset that this bearded, dishevelled man isn’t entirely well and was driven into the woods by an unspecified trauma he’s in no rush to share with the world, but the humble existence he and his unnamed pet have been eking out seems to be enough for him — in some ways it’s even idyllic.
This, of course, can’t go on forever, and we’ve hardly gotten to know the sassy young pig before she’s snatched away by unknown villains.
The first thing that stands out about “Pig” is how it manages to be both fantastical and realistic. The premise is ridiculous, but the book itself is just as outlandish, with chapters such “Rustic Mushroom Tart” and “Mom’s French Toast with Deconstructed Scallops” and an underground combat club for restaurant staff.
But it never slides into silliness, with Sarnoski’s sparse speech supplemented by a wonderfully low-key score courtesy of Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein. That’s why no one else could play the lead part as convincingly as Cage does: no one else could take such a stupid story twist and make it seem almost deep.
A Portland native makes the remark, “I recall a time when your name meant something to people, Robin,” upon meeting him again. Then why this? Nothing you do matters. You’re completely obsolete at this point. Even though Robin’s sadness is written in every line on his face and every grey hair on his head, the secret of this past self hums alongside the mystery of the pig’s location.
Cage throws himself into the role, delivering a raw earnestness to laugh cues like “I don’t fuck my pig” and “Your dad sounds terrible” that manage to be amusing without allowing us to laugh at Robin.
Without Wolff’s Skillful Interaction With Cage, None of this would Work.
The two finish becoming a type of odd-couple comedy combination, with Max as the straight guy attempting to keep a low profile and Robin as the scruffy eccentric who, throughout the entire adventure, never wipes the blood off his face or cleans the wounds he got while his beloved was being taken from him.
The unidentified pig also makes an appearance and is intriguing despite being a MacGuffin. The pigs in this story are just as heartfelt as those in “Gunda,” as any viewer will attest.
They shouldn’t have taken the pig any more than they should have taken the plush rabbit in “Con Air,” but Robin never seems particularly angry or ready to exact revenge on his wrongdoers. Despite our hopes that “Pig” will follow in the footsteps of action films like “John Wick,” director Darren Sarnoski consistently resists our expectations by showing us a far more grounded story.
As a glimpse into the seemingly high-stakes world of truffle pig hunting, Cage’s “Pig” is surprisingly touching; as a showcase for his talent, it’s a revelation. At the end of an inspiring monologue about our hopes, the transient nature of accomplishment, and everything else, Robin informs a fellow chef, “We don’t get a lot of things to truly care about.”
Whether it be truffles, animal companions, or something altogether different, we should all be lucky enough to care about anything as much as Robin feels about his pig, regardless of how it turns out.