The first things I knew about Pig were three things. Firstly, it is a Nic Cage movie called Pig, already seeming curio like. Secondly, the poster; a brooding Nic Cage looking like a caveman on a background of inky black evoking the revenge fuelled desperation that came with Joaquin Phoenix’s masterful performance in Lynne Ramsay’s crowning achievement, You Were Never Really Here. This was aided by the listing in my local cinema tagging it as a revenge western in which Nic Cage attempts to track down those who have stolen his beloved truffle pig. The third was the stellar reviews it was receiving from people I very much respect overseas with a delayed UK release date. So the impression I get is that what might on first blush appear to be a cheap rip off of some of the new set of very excellent revisionist revenge films we’ve had recently like John Wick with a slightly off premise about a pig that’s elevated by a typically brilliant Nicolas Cage performance. What I ended up getting though, was very different.
Pig is a slow moving and brooding drama about loss and moving forward. Set in modern day, it stars Nic Cage as Rob. Initially fitting the Man With No Name archetype, what starts out as a brooding descent into the darkest emotions when his truffle pig is stolen gradually blossoms into something sorrowful and tenuous and lyrical as the film goes on and it slowly morphs into a different kind of movie altogether. Initially, Rob is a man reclusive from society. We see him unable to listen to a tape offered in his name. We get the idea that after the death of a loved one he removed himself from society but we don’t know more, and due to the porcine theft we start on what is essentially almost a buddy road movie with Alex Wolff’s pretentious truffle tradesman. It’s potent stuff and in an empty theatre I still felt the need to wipe the tears from my eyes by the credit’s run.
The first thing to praise, the thing that will immediately leap out to most viewers in how nuanced and powerful the performances are. In a week where Ben Shapiro deservedly caught flack for saying that Nic Cage plays all his characters as surfers it’s all too sweet that Pig is in cinemas, a film in which Cage delivers one of the most deft performances from a storied career filled with wonderful performances. As opposed to some of his most iconic roles in films like Raising Arizona and Mandy, this performance is just as quality but much more subdued. He provides an excellent foil for the much more conceited and hyperactive performance of Wolff by providing a man who is just who he is. For every moment Wolff is bouncing off the walls he is counteracted by the gruff stoicism of Cage’s Rob. Cage could easily be up for Oscars for his meticulous performance of grief and well, wouldn’t it just be wonderful if the Academy recognised him after all these years as a Hollywood pariah? I was a little put off by Wolff’s performance early on, he just felt a bit much, but the more you learn about his character and the amount his character performs and puts up walls, it only makes more sense.
This is true for the one scene people have pointed out to be maybe the one misstep the film has also. Early on, Cage has to get a key piece of information by essentially participating in Fight Club if it were purely about restaurant workers. It’s just very strange, and feels like a scene out of a different movie like John Wick or a scene basically out of the movie I was expecting it to be, yet so delighted that it wasn’t. Now while this definitely feels incongruous with the rest of the film it does an interesting thing whereby it sets up that kind of film which you expect it to be, which only makes the contrast of the film that it slowly becomes as the film lays out its cards all the more stark and exciting. Your mileage will vary but in retrospect I absolutely appreciate the role this scene plays in the film and its emotional portrait.
The stylistic aspects of the film are worthy of note as well. Evidently shot quickly and on a low budget, the film takes in nature with sumptuous long shots with a slow pace to the edit that allow you to understand exactly what Rob sees in this solitary existence. You understand his deep partnership with this pig, you understand the beauty in the overwhelming enormity and stillness of nature, you understand the beauty in being humble before it. You understand just the sheer visual beauty of it. There’s a long take towards the end of the film when you understand a bit better exactly what about Rob’s life he needed to find in the wilderness that just pans over a rack of equipment as Nick Cage walks past outside that’s one of the most beautiful pieces of visual storytelling I’ve maybe ever seen. There’s another heartbreaking scene just as the film reaches its denouement that’s entirely done in one static wide shot, and normally these shots are designed to trap you as a neutral observer in the scene and make you feel awkward but here it just radiates warmth. It invites you as someone to sit there and share in Rob’s emotional catharsis instead of his pain and it’s just beautiful.
The film goes out of its way to imbue every character with a deep humanity, even the villain. There’s a small side character who is invited to Nic Cage’s lunch table in one of the film’s stand out scenes and although he spends almost the whole scene as an obsequious, nervous wreck, and is definitely framed as pathetic, he has a very rich backstory even if it’s delivered briefly. You understand who he is and empathise with his hollowness, you understand how he came to be there. It’s the same with the de facto villain of the piece. Through these side characters the film ties its dual themes of grief and art into one thread all through the film, which is brought out in different ways in every character Rob encounters. Y’know, like in good writing. The film drives slowly at the heart of the idea that this world is hard and takes things away from us. The film says that, in that world, so many people choose to become hard and sacrifice themselves, slowly lose pieces until they are no longer recognisable, having gone into pathways in life they at one time saw something in that they lost a long time ago. The film asks us to make a different choice, to quote the great Irvine Welsh, to choose life.
This is the film’s beauty, and its truth.