Pig will be a victim of expectations. While marketed as Nicolas Cage’s equivalent to a darkly comic and surreal John Wick, and though a study of the desire for vengeance to an extent, it is not a revenge film—one that provides no violent catharsis for its blood-soaked protagonist. Pig is rather about the increasingly fragile connections we make as human beings and the isolationist tendencies that can infect our lives after experiencing harrowing grief. With director Michael Sarnoski subverting expectations from the start, the experience is ultimately a rewarding one.
Cage plays Robin, a truffle hunter living in almost complete solitude in the Oregon wilderness with his beloved pig. He has called the woods his home for 15 years, the only continuous interaction with the outside world are his dealings with a flashy young businessman Amir (Alex Wolff) who provides supplies in exchange for a selection of truffles. Robin is clearly dealing with a variety of issues, but his pig is a force of stability, giving the connection to the world he needs. His life is completely shattered when a pair of drug addicts break into his cabin one night and steal his beloved hog, leaving Robin beaten and bloody in the process. Recruiting Amir as his companion, Robin returns to his former home Portland in search of his pet and faces everything he left behind.
There are no elements of graphic violence in Pig, nor any moments where Cage channels his most extreme tendencies as a performer. Pig is a quiet film—Cage retreats inside himself for the majority, barely speaking through the opening act and reluctant with words until provoked. It’s a performance embedded with a lifetime of tragedy, no smiles or moments of exuberance in his physicality. Sadness haunts this character and one can feel it from every gesture that Cage uses, whether it’s the way he walks down the streets of Portland or how he positions himself in the passenger seat of a Camaro. It is remarkably intense, understated work, utilizing his potential to physically intimidate within the confines of a character who is fragile and just wants his friend back. The way his performance expands throughout the runtime is remarkable—he allows himself to openly reminisce and grieve before the inevitable shutdown comes. There are moments throughout Pig that rank amongst the best scenes he’s ever had as an actor, further revealing how much of a groundbreaking talent he is.
The perfect counterpart to Cage’s minimalistic tragedy is Wolff’s Amir, who is arrogant, brash, and constantly engaging in conversation. He’s the source of the most dialogue throughout, and his clashes with Robin are some of Pig’s most stimulating moments. It’s just as important as Cage’s; his means of generating real tragedy beneath the flashy exterior is impeccable. Wolff has always been excellent at conveying despair with his eyes, an indescribable feeling of pain with a single anguished look. He expands that aspect of his performance across the story, as Amir reveals the true extent of his own grief and begins to understand Robin’s own suffering better. There is a quiet chemistry between the two that becomes fundamental by Pig’s closing moments, an honest understanding that can only come from tragedy. The film’s best scene stems from their interactions, as Amir finally realizes the reason for Robin’s pursuit isn’t for any material reasons—he just loves his pig. Instead of joking around or making light of it, for once, Amir is silent and Woolf’s expression conveys such seismic empathy that it brings tears to the eyes. In a film defined by isolation and pain, there are still beautiful moments in the midst of the storm.
There is so much to Pig, a film that has more in common with Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow than John Wick. It could easily be cruel or sensationalistic but isn’t; it’s built on a fundamental understanding of the attachments that we make to objects and animals. Pig‘s defining element comes with a physical tape from a lost loved one. When Cage’s hands first touch this precious object, he convulses with a wave of sadness, remembering all that he’s lost. He can barely stomach the first seconds of hearing her again. When touching it again that sadness has transformed into the only possible form of solace. He hears her voice and experiences their memories again, feels the beautiful pain that it causes, loses himself amongst the words as the darkness seems to envelop everything.
Pig is now in theaters.