Cinema Dispatch: Pig

Pig and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon

Directed by Michael Sarnoski

There are so many movies from 2021 that I’m disappointed I didn’t get around to with this being one of the more glaring omissions. Nicolas Cage has been my favorite actor for quite a long time, but the last few years have really seen a resurgence for the guy as he’s dominated the mid-range and indie scene with a series of really interesting and creative movies. Not all of them have worked of course (Willy’s Wonderland felt like a novelty taken too far) but they always find a way to be interesting, and the idea of Nicolas Cage going after the people who stole his pig is the kind of premise you just can’t pass up on! Will Nicolas Cage strike gold once again with a quest to find his very cute pig, or is this yet another mess that even Cage’s unbeatable charisma and acting chops can’t salvage? Let’s find out!!

A man named Rob (Nicolas Cage) lives alone in a small cabin in a forest in Oregon. He has no electricity, no phone, and interacts with as few people as possible; just the way he wants it. His only is his pig who provides a modicum of companionship and also sniffs out truffles which Cage trades for basic supplies via a bratty rich kid named Amir (Alex Wolff) who doesn’t understand this mountain man’s ways but is more than happy to take those truffles off his hands. Everything seems to be going fine for Rob until his house is invaded and he’s bashed over the head while they steal his pig away. With the last thing he cares about in this world taken from him, Rob has to return to society (specifically Portland) with the help of Amir to track down the people who took it. Throughout this journey, Amir learns more about this strange man in the woods and the life he ran away from all those years ago, and perhaps there’s more to this pig theft than simply finding truffles. Will Rob and Amir track down the pig-nappers before the trail goes cold? What is waiting for Rob in Portland once he gets back there, and will he have to confront his past before he can hope to see his little buddy again?  If you had a pig that adorable, wouldn’t you go to the ends of the Earth to get it back?

“It’s just you and me, Pig. You, me, and this magnificent hair.” *Snort-Snort* “Of course it’s real! Why would you even ask that!?”

I’m still working on my lists for the end of the year roundup, but the overriding theme has been a lack of interesting or particularly strong entries on either side of the spectrum as 2021 has just been kind of a middle of the road year. There were bright spots to be sure, but no particular highs and lows that made me look back on what I’ve seen this year with any sort of fondness or dismay. That’s why I’m going through the trouble of trying to catch up on movies from 2021 that I missed out on, and I’m very glad that I have done so because this movie may just end up at the very top of my best-of-the-year list! It’s amazing how completely different it was from what I was expecting and yet managed to be everything that I needed it to be. I was expecting John Wick with Nicolas Cage or at least something with a bit more darkness to it, but it’s a surprisingly human and emotionally driven movie that almost feels like a rejection of the violent revenge fantasy that you would have expected from a movie about Nicolas Cage trying to get his pig back. It’s refreshing in how it takes the typical formula of The Man Seeking Justice on its head while also telling a truly rich and captivating story about people failing to confront their emotions and pain. I’ve always been of the opinion that Nicolas Cage is one of the greatest actors we have, but even I was surprised at just how good this was!

“I don’t see any signs of a struggle, so she must not have been able to escape via the river…”     *BEEP BEEP*     “Alright, I’m coming! I’m just trying to be thorough!”

Cage has definitely been on the upswing lately, but this is on a whole other level and I’d argue it’s at least as good as some of his better dramatic roles; certainly as good as Leaving Las Vegas which is the role that won him an Oscar. The best way to describe this is a thriller that is stripped down to its barest elements before being rebuilt as a character drama. It’s a movie that manages to eschew violence and action without losing an ounce of its tension, and most of this has to do with Cage himself who embodies this role with conviction while being supported by a script that knows exactly what to do with him. Everything from his demeanor, clothing choice, and the state of things in his small little world flesh out the character with an efficiency and depth that a lot of other films can only aspire to, and yet there are still layers to uncover through the story as his past plays more and more into the events of the here and now. It’s not even a particularly energetic role as Cage goes about things with a very deliberate pace where the challenge is not in how many doors he has to bust down but in how much he has to put himself out there to get what he wants. He wanted nothing more than to hole himself up in his little cabin until he died, but now he’s being forced to come back to the real world, and where some would take that as an excuse to become angry and violent, Cage plays this role with resignation and a touch of fear as the more he has to show himself to the world, the closer he gets to the past that he’s spent so long running away from. It’s a fantastic performance and keeps you engaged from beginning to end, but he’s not the only thing that works about this. The cinematography isn’t too flashy, but it adds a lot of weight to the more dramatic scenes, the supporting cast that pops up throughout the movie gives great performances as well, especially when they get to bounce off of Nicolas Cage’s character, and there’s just enough wacky humor in here to keep it from feeling too dour. The trail of breadcrumbs that Cage follows which takes him through an absurd world of high-end chefs with bizarre underground rituals and business dealings definitely adds a fanciful tone to a good chunk of the movie, and it only adds to the mystery as to who Cage used to be and what is ultimately waiting for him at the end of this journey.

“You’re not welcome here in Flavor Town! Go back to Bittersweet Grove before I get the Sommelier to crack a bottle over your head!”

What truly set this movie apart though are its characters and how effortlessly the movie weaves with humor, heart, and pain. All of the main characters in this movie do a great job of giving you one very clear idea of who they are, but over time the places they go and the challenges they confront chip away at those façades, and their humanity can’t help but bleed out to the surface in messy ways. Alex Wolff in particular plays a rather obnoxious character from the outset, but by the end of it, you are just as invested in his story as you are in Cage’s. The movie manages to touch a lot of bases, from trauma and denial all the way to toxic masculinity, and the film does an admirable job of blending these ideas into something that truly feels cathartic and satisfying; eschewing the cheap satisfaction of a man made whole by completing an external task (in most cases, in the form of a violent revenge mission) to arrive at something much deeper and relatable. The seemingly exaggerated aspects of this world with super chefs and secret societies of ingredient hunters may seem like a sly dig at John Wick’s increasingly absurd crime organizations, it ends up reinforcing the themes of the movie and provides further insight into the characters. Everyone in here is putting up a strong posture of masculine hostility, from Alex Wolff’s rich bro jerkoff to Cage’s dirty mountain man shtick, and they are just as absurd and artificial as the idea of organized pig poachers and underground fight clubs for chefs. They are simply the masks they wear to hide their true selves from the world and from themselves; fighting to hide the deep-seated pain and insecurities that society (both the goofy chef world and the real one we live in) is all too likely to look down upon. It’s a story about people with real problems that probably aren’t fixed by the time everyone has to go their separate ways, but the masks are finally starting to fall away and there’s hope that things may get better for them. It’s a message that I can certainly get behind and it’s perhaps the splash of cold water that the John Wick wannabes needed before the resurgent genre gets too enamored with its more pernicious aspects.

“Despite all my rage, I am still just a sad Nicolas Cage…”

There are a few small things here and there throughout the movie that didn’t exactly click with me, but they aren’t genuine issues with the movie as much as they are stylistic preferences. I understand why the movie is tight-lipped about the details of Rob’s past as it reflects his inability to deal with his own life, but I still feel like they could have done it a little bit faster. The pace never drags per se, but the slowness of reveals coupled with the deliberate choice to have scenes with a lot of empty space between lines left me feeling like MAYBE they could have tightened things up just a smidgen. The ending is also something that, at least for me, left me feeling split right down the middle. I completely understand why the movie had to end the way it did for the emotional arc of Rob to feel complete, but I still wish that they could have gotten to that point without doing… what they end up doing at the end. None of this genuinely hurts the movie in a significant way and I understand every choice made; it’s just when you have a movie this good, the parts that don’t quite connect with you personally can stand out a bit more than in something less interesting and engaging.

“What they’ll never know is… I could have done National Treasure 3… but I didn’t want to.”

It’s sometimes hard to put into words why something truly hit you in just the right way when watching it, and this definitely feels less like a well-crafted recipe than a product of pure alchemy. The acting is fantastic with Cage giving one of his best performances in years and its lack of violence in favor of a more emotionally driven narrative is certainly novel for this genre, but none of that truly captures the way the characters latch onto you over the course of the movie. If pressed, I would say that it manages to be a truly human story without forgetting that it’s a movie. It reaches the depths of raw emotion that so many indie films strive for, but where a lot of movies like that tend to leave it there without much of an eye for expressive filmmaking, this uses all the tools in the box to carry its characters and its story. Where some indie films can feel a bit impenetrable with stripped-down and bare-bones productions, this one hits those notes without sacrificing the flair which, to me at least, emboldens the humanity of a story rather than detract from it. If it wasn’t obvious already, I would absolutely recommend watching this movie whenever you get a chance. It’s certainly not what I was expecting and may not be what you’re expecting either, but very rarely have I been this pleasantly surprised and genuinely satisfied when the credits finally started to roll. That and I had an overwhelming desire to get one of those pigs! Seriously, how did they manage to find the cutest pig ever for this movie!? If she’s not in the next Avengers movies as Iron-Pig or something, I will be VERY disappointed!

4.5 out of 5

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