2021, R, 92 min. Directed by Michael Sarnoski. Starring Nicolas Cage, Brandy, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., July 16, 2021
As the great philosopher Frank Reynolds once pronounced, “Well, I don’t know how many years on this Earth I got left. I’m gonna get real weird with it.” So if you were expecting a return to his gritty yet soulful depiction of a blue-collar burnout from Joe for Pig, his eagerly awaited story of a man and his truffle-hunting swine, then Nic Cage has a surprise for you. Yes, he’s matched its world-weariness, but he’s injected the strange compassion of drunkard’s prayer Leaving Las Vegas and the dusty gothic of revenger Mandy and cooked up something utterly unique, even in his eclectic canon.
There is a peculiar bond between truffle hunters and their hogs, as shown by how his brindle-colored pig (Brandy) follows Robin (Cage) around, each gazing at the other with clear adoration. A recluse in many layers of shredded clothing, added like layers of bark but from the outside inward, Robin looks like an Oregon farmer on hard times, and his shack seems barely stable, like a hobo’s overnight construct. But there is quickly shown to be more at play here, as a chapter title card gives the first insight that he’s not some hick with a pet pig. He is a man who has retreated from the world, and his only contact is a truffle dealer, Amir (Wolff, sporting a perfectly pretentious moustache). So when the pig is stolen, it’s Amir he begrudgingly turns to as chauffeur and fixer.
The setup screams comedy, but there are no laughs here. It could also become an unconventional action-thriller, a porcine Unforgiven. Yet while there is violence, it is as something to pass through, not inflict. Wolff, wisely, realizes that there is no point in trying to match Cage, and so keeps Amir swept up in his orbit (in some ways reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix in 8mm, another film about a bizarre subculture) rather than trying to compete for space. And why would you even try when Cage decimates those in his way: not with fists, or a silver axe à la Mandy, but with quiet, undeniable truths that cut to the core. Words cause people to crumble because he understands what they deny to themselves. An exchange about whether to open a high-end restaurant or a pub becomes a Damascene conversion; a request for an extra baked good opens up a sealed heart. Pig is an unexpectedly transformative experience.
Robin is, in many ways, a vintage Cage character of the modern era, a taciturn broken warrior living in quiet away from the world. Just him and his pig. Director Michael Sarnoski knows well enough to leave the camera locked off on Cage, whether at a great remove where the entirety of his physicality can be absorbed, or closely, where those eyes that have seen eons can glimpse us and find something bigger than we knew we could contain. Because Pig is a meditation on what distracts us from life: money, pretension, pleasing people, memories, the fear of asking and of showing our true selves. Robin lives in the instant but sees the world in terms of centuries, eras, and epochs, and Pig lets us glimpse through those eyes.
That resetting of perspective is invaluable. At a time when so many people are struggling to find something of value in their lives, when people are fleeing jobs, cities, futures they thought they wanted, Cage has crafted a quiet soliloquy about grasping onto something that has meaning. In some ways, this is one of his most emotionally brutal films. But it’s also cathartic, a story of realizing that you can strip away everything and find a meaning, a connection, that finally gives your life some definition.