Audiences expecting the trademark ‘Cage-rage’ might be initially disappointed, but instead they’ll find a beautiful, sad, and moving tale in director Michael Sarnoski’s debut feature. Nicolas Cage’s restrained and touching performance anchors a surprisingly effective film.
Cage plays Rob Felt, a solitary truffle hunter who lives deep in the Oregon woodland with only his beloved truffle pig for companionship. His only regular contact with civilisation is Amir (Alex Wolff), the dealer who visits him regularly to exchange Rob’s prized finds for some basic supplies that allow him to maintain his hermit existence. It’s hardly an equitable exchange – Amir’s yellow sports car attests that it’s not Rob who’s making the big money – but it’s clear that the taciturn Rob values his basic, isolated existence far more than wealth or comfort. However, when a couple of thugs intrude and violently steal Rob’s pig, he insists that Amir takes him into the city of Portland in search of his missing animal.
Although superficially this seems like a quirky variant of the formulaic kidnap-revenge tale, Pig is something very different. Early in the setup, it becomes clear that Rob is grieving the death of his wife; he can barely listen to a treasured cassette recording of her voice, and his fifteen-year self-enforced solitude is his way of withdrawing from the places and memories of their previous life in the city.
Pig is a meditation about male grief and unbearable loss, about broken dreams and disappointments, and about both avoidance and coming to terms. This theme inhabits many elements and characters in the excellent script by Sarnoski and Vanessa Block. Every main character is suffering some kind of loss but displaces it variably to anger, ruthlessness, false ambitions, or withdrawal. And the subtle characterisations are very affecting.
Cage is excellent here. His muted performance conveys a profound sadness, delicate and numbed. Despite his dishevelled appearance and gruff manner he is kindly and genuine- a lovely chance interaction with a young girl playing on the doorstep of his former home showcases that beautifully. Cage manages to convey so much with the little amplitude he is afforded, and with Sarnoski’s direction even moments of deep despair are quietened.
Although Cage will get all the accolades, Alex Wolff as the young truffle dealer who helps Rob in his search is equally central, displaying the sensitive vulnerability that he expressed so effectively as the teenage son in Hereditary, this time masked by a thin extroverted persona; we quickly see the depth and humanity behind the brash salesman.
As might be expected from both Rob’s and Amir’s occupations, a love of fine food is a recurring theme. The film would be an interesting double-bill paired with this year’s Truffle Hunters (or perhaps a triple with Gunda), the solitary lifestyle and deep affection for their animals displayed by the quirky characters in that documentary have much in common with Rob’s chosen lifestyle. But Sarnoski manages to use even this food theme to express loss, from the fragile shell of artificial pretentions in a high-class restaurant to the way a meal can evoke fond and painfully treasured memories.
Despite the sadness, Pigs is often an amusing and engaging film. There’s always a joy to be found whenever a deadpan Cage declares he’s searching his pig, the subtlest of nods towards the outrageous persona the actor has nurtured. Many of the characters are very amusing, including a brief appearance with David Knell as a young chef who almost upstages Cage himself. And the quest for the missing pig gives the story momentum.
But what comes across most strongly is a sense of warmth and support in the face of deep sadness, and a kind of catharsis without for a moment pretending that their grief will ever leave them. Pig is a wonderfully human film.
Pig was released in UK cinemas on 20th August 2021 and is available to streamFollow @davefilmblog
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