REVIEW: Pig [2021]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 92 minutes
    Release Date: July 16th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Neon
    Director(s): Michael Sarnoski
    Writer(s): Michael Sarnoski / Vanessa Block & Michael Sarnoski (story)

Marge died ten years ago.

Rob (Nicolas Cage) wants for nothing from his woodland lifestyle in the middle of Nowhere, Oregon. He has his cabin and his truffle hog: the former providing shelter, the latter companionship. With a whistle she comes trotting over, ready for another hunt. Sometimes it appears she’s the one finding culinary gold under the dirt and others it appears as though it’s him, troweling up some earth to taste. The duo knows what they’re doing and provide their buyer (Alex Wolff‘s Amir) a superior enough product for him to drive his Camero out every Thursday with batteries and whatever other supplies Rob needs in return. It’s a relationship built on utilitarianism and that’s fine by him. He has his pig to love. He doesn’t need anyone else.

Writer/director Michael Sarnoski (from a story by him and Vanessa Block) introduces us to his lead with compassion. We aren’t meant to judge this simple life—even if Amir does by asking him if he’s certain he doesn’t want a propane shower to take care of some of the smell. If anything, Sarnoski wants us to understand that this is exactly where Rob wants to be and what he wants to do. He’s not a man down on his luck. He wasn’t forced into exile. This is a choice he deserves the space to have made, for whatever reason, without a need for justification. So he grunts when Amir asks a question. He shuts his door when their business is complete. Anything more is too much to bear.

Until, of course, this life is turned upside-down in the middle of the night amidst the squeals of his best friend. It’s no wonder Sarnoski has titled his film Pig since it’s the animal’s kidnapping that ignites everything that follows. You’d be correct, however, to question how anything could come of the theft since Rob is so isolated. The only name he knows to use at the nearest diner with a telephone is someone who died a decade prior and the fact he interacts with no one other than Amir means finding a lead or having a clue where to begin should prove a nonstarter. Yet somehow the mention of a “city man” is all he needs to get the gears turning and his past to flood back.

Details of why this is true need to remain scarce, though, because the revelations are as surprising as they are surreal. While the comparisons to John Wick that many have made are reductive at best, the superficiality of those connections are a decent place to enter. You just have to realize we’re dealing with a different world here. Rather than assassins, Rob and Amir are part of Portland’s high-end culinary environment whether they actively participate inside of it or not. If someone got wind that the truffles the latter was selling were superior to theirs, they’d spend a lot of money discovering why. Seller connects them to supplier, supplier to the real mastermind sniffer. And who’s going to care about a missing pet but its owner?

It therefore all depends on the owner because looks often prove deceiving. Just because Rob appears like a homeless loner being exploited by a young, opportunistic prick driving his yellow sports car into the forest every week doesn’t mean that’s who he is. And while remembering where he came from meant paying too high a cost yesterday, the circumstances of today necessitate it. Rob’s past becomes the answer to finding his pig and he’ll stop at nothing to pull the right threads on this impromptu reunion tour. It will look strange (and earn some laughs) to see the juxtaposition of his ragged beard and bloodied head sitting at five-star restaurants while Amir tries to keep his distance and maintain his “reputation,” but desperation has no time for etiquette.

Desperation doesn’t always call for revenge either. Despite what many assume given Cage’s recent cinematic output, his Rob isn’t one to fight or kill. He’s not looking to topple his enemies or remind people about who he is … he just wants his pig back. As such, his narrative progression is less about where he’s going than where he’s been. Everything he repressed rises to the surface as the memories he’s held at bay (a person with a photographic memory can’t simply forget) can no longer be contained. They take him through an underground fight club pitting waitstaff against chefs, critically acclaimed establishments pretentiously “bathing” dishes in smoke, and the house of a culinary power broker (Adam Arkin‘s Darius) who carries the weight of a mafioso sans violence.

And that is where the genius of Pig lies: Sarnoski’s ability to make us feel as though we’re in a mob movie without falling prey to the impulses one normally embraces. The so-called “kingpins” are simply feared men propped up by reputation and magazine cover stories. People talk about them with cloaked whispers, but they’re nothing more than businessmen playing the game to achieve success rather than artistic merit. It’s the type of vapidly hollow ambition that’s ruined so many industries by driving out true talent and pretending those that can be bought and controlled have it instead. As Rob says, however, none of that stuff matters. It’s all fake—smoke and mirrors used to turn a profit that the rich will buy because they’re told they should.

Only those who’ve lost what matters most can understand this reality and see through the veil, but only if they’re also willing to accept the pain wrought in the process. People like Amir and Darius hide from it. They cover up their sorrow with material gains and pretend they’re unaffected. Rob has conversely adopted it as his identity. He’s insulated himself from the noise to live simply and for himself because moving on from his tragedy is a literal impossibility. And Cage imbues the character with the resulting turmoil to perfection thanks to his best performance in years. He’s reminding those around him that life is too precious to treat like something you can “win.” All that mindset does is prevent real happiness from ever reaching the menu.

courtesy of Neon

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