A funny thing happened on the way to the truffle forest: writer and director Michael Sarnoski has crafted a deep, soulful film, one that has grander ideas on its mind than what audiences may originally think, and a film that manages to use Cage in a way that few directors have been able to tap into. Cage’s best performances come in films that underplay the rage that always seems to be bubbling below the surface, and Pig is a film that uses his gravely monotone to perfection, one of the year’s best performances so far.
Premise: A truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped.
You’d be forgiven for reading the logline of Pig and giving it no more than a second thought – and, rest assured, I initially did as well. At first glance, the film appears to be just another entry in the revenge-thriller-starring-a-retirement-aged-A-lister that has been increasingly dominating Hollywood over the last decade. And that’s not mentioning the inclusion of star Nicolas Cage, who’s been carving out his own oddball niche in the genre over the last few years as well.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the truffle forest: writer and director Michael Sarnoski has crafted a deep, soulful film, one that has grander ideas on its mind than what audiences may originally think, and a film that manages to use Cage in a way that few directors have been able to tap into. Cage’s best performances come in films that underplay the rage that always seems to be bubbling below the surface, and Pig is a film that uses his gravely monotone to perfection, one of the year’s best performances so far.
The film isn’t without its quirks though, including a scene with a fight club for restaurant workers that, in less confident hands, could threaten to overtake the themes at play, but ultimately helps to build Sarnoski’s world in unique and interesting ways. What begins as a loner’s search for his beloved truffle-hunting pig slowly and organically morphs into a rumination on themes like grief, trauma, memory, and fatherhood. Cage plays Rob, who lives alone in a shack in the Oregon wilderness with his titular pig. Only 10 minutes into the film, the pig is mysteriously stolen and Rob reluctantly returns to the city to get her back. Since the only human contact he has is with his truffle buyer, a young trust-funder played with just the right amount of smarm by Alex Wolff, the film morphs into a kind of buddy-cop mystery, while never losing the heart of the matter. We eventually learn that Rob was a locally renowned chef who, after losing his wife, retreated to the woods and left his past aspirations behind. Rob’s relationship to his deceased wife isn’t expanded upon much, and the metaphor of his pig as a stand-in for her has certainly been done before, but Cage’s affectingly raw performance certainly helps to sell what Sarnoski puts forth.
Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite rightfully gained praise for its ability to switch between genres on a dime, but Pig finds itself skillfully using elements of action, comedy, melodrama, and mystery, peppered with some dynamite food porn in-between. It’s fitting – and one of Sarnoski’s masterstrokes of the film – that Rob’s current profession is one of the most rudimentary throughout the world, and the antagonists all represent the haute foodie culture that’s permeated today’s major cities. These people aren’t villains necessarily, just people who left their creative ambitions behind in search for fame and fortune. One of the film’s best scenes features an incredible monologue delivered by Rob when interrogating one of his former protégé’s: “You live your life for them, and they don’t even see you. You don’t even see yourself.” It’s not blunt force that Rob uses on his search for his pig, but his frayed connections to those he used to be surrounded by. Sarnoski deftly slips in heartbreaking moments like this, moments that you wouldn’t expect at the onset of a film about a man and his pig, and the end result is just part of what makes Pig such a delightful surprise. As movie theaters slowly creep back to life this year, multiplexes will fill their screens with summer blockbusters, full of explosions and action set pieces and, likely, more revenge-thrillers. Meanwhile, Pig proves itself to be not only an astonishing indie drama, but a promising debut feature for Sarnoski and one of the best films of the year so far. I already look forward to the chance to see the film again, if only to be immersed in the rich world and ideas on display. If given the opportunity, see it.
Pig will be available in theaters nationwide on July 16.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com and a recurring co-host on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast, and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.