Review: The Nicolas Cage drama ‘Pig’ is an unusually beautiful meditation on loss
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A man who was once an in-demand specialist — living a life marred by moments of eruptive rage — is roused out of retirement when an animal he loves is taken from him by shady criminals. Driven to revenge, he returns to his old stamping grounds, where he reacquaints himself with the arcane rules and the strict hierarchy of his past.
Sound a little like “John Wick”? Or “Taken”? Or some other pulpy action picture about a rugged antihero getting reluctantly dragged back into a bloody fray?
Well, that’s not quite the way things go with “Pig,” a low-boil indie drama that features the game-for-anything genre-movie star Nicolas Cage in the lead, yet in no way could be described as a “thriller.” Though its plot follows the same rough outline of a “John Wick”-style shoot-em-up, “Pig” is actually a quiet and often melancholy meditation on loss, anchored by a character who wishes he could shake free of the person he used to be.
The first feature from the writer-director Michael Sarnoski (from a story co-written with Vanessa Block), “Pig” is divided into three parts, each given a title that reads like an haute cuisine menu item: “Rustic Mushroom Tart,” “Deconstructed Scallops,” etc. Part one introduces Robin Feld (Cage), a talented chef who lives way off the grid, deep in an Oregon forest with only his beloved truffle pig for company — plus some old cassette tapes made by a woman he loved.
When burglars beat him up and steal the pig, Rob calls on Amir (Alex Wolff), a rich Portland hipster who’s been bartering for Rob’s truffles to sell to upscale eateries. What Amir doesn’t know is that Rob is already well-acquainted with the intricacies of Portland’s foodie world: from the boutique suppliers to the ruthless bistro owners to the underground fight clubs where all the competitors are restaurant workers.
The phrase “underground fight clubs” should give some indication that “Pig” can be a bit — well, bizarre. There are surprising moments sprinkled throughout the film, including revelations about Rob and the folks he meets that are kept just vague enough to spark the viewer’s imagination, suggesting some painful secrets and hidden connections. And while the situation and the setting may be somewhat over the top, the characters’ reactions are always grounded in reality.
Sarnoski doesn’t answer every question the audience might have. (Boldly, he keeps the specifics of what happened to Rob’s old flame shrouded in mystery.) Instead, “Pig” focuses on fleshing out this stiflingly insular Portland community, filled with people who’ve turned the business of selling food into a blood sport. As Rob shuffles between various hotspots — getting somehow more caked with grime and gore with each passing hour — it’s easy to understand why he so desperately wanted to detach in the first place.
Inevitably, Rob runs into his shadow-self: a stern restaurant product-broker named Darius, played with a chilling steeliness by Adam Arkin. If anyone would know who in the Portland area had recently seized a truffle pig, it would be Darius, a man for whom nearly every aspect of existence is transactional. But whether he’d be willing to share that kind of valuable information is another matter.
Despite a few scenes here and there of Rob snarling, “I want my pig back!” this movie is not the kind of offbeat goof Cage has become infamous for lately. “Pig” is a rich character study, marked by several riveting Cage monologues, as Rob ruminates on the tricky taste of persimmons, or as he warns the Portland status-seekers that the things they think matter will be wiped away when catastrophe comes.
Rob is referring to environmental disasters, but he could just as easily be talking about losing a person — or a pig — that means more than any four-star food-blogger review. What makes this strange little movie so moving and even beautiful is that it takes Rob’s pig-saving mission as seriously as it takes his conviction that society as we know it is hopelessly rotten.
And yet he remains a tragic figure in a way, this pig-loving husk of a man. Rob wants to leave behind everything that’s gone sour in his life. But the flavors and aromas are all around him, lingering on his palate.
Rated: R, for language and some violence.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Starts July 16 in general release
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