Pig Synopsis: Rob (Nicolas Cage), a truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness, must return to his past life in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped. Alongside Amir (Alex Wolff), his vapid young truffle buyer, the two discover deeper purpose from their straightforward mission.
Most recognize him for his manic energy, but don’t be fooled by Nicolas Cage’s wildcard facade. While his dynamic performances grab the audience’s interest (who doesn’t replay clips from Wicker Man or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans?), Cage can often exhibit subdued nuances from even the most underwritten characters. Some directors have masterfully utilized the actor’s more delicate persona, with recent indie breakouts Joe and Mandy illustrating the immense talent lying under Cage’s eccentric surface.
Writer/director Michael Sarnoski’s meditative debut Pig finds itself embracing a similarly solemn aesthetic. Clashing the intimate wonders of our natural world with the self-absorbed glitz of modern society, Sarnoski draws a compelling, albeit inconsistent, change up from typical genre formula.
Sarnoski and co-writer Vanessa Block certainly aren’t afraid to delineate from audience’s hard-wired expectations. Where most would repurpose the film’s revenge plot thread into a mindless actioner, the duo wisely opts towards soulful poeticism. Pig‘s meandering pace and gentle character beats effectively dig at the heart of Rob and Amir’s life-altering quest.
Both may exist on opposite ends of social standards, but the premise intelligently analyzes their shared emptiness. The character’s stark environmental juxtaposition serves as a powerful motif for humanity’s longing for meaningful connection, with both characters’ dissident realities compensating for their broken histories. For a tight 91-minute narrative, Sarnoski and Block exhibit impressive poise while skillfully balancing their challenging thematic high-wire act (the central message is dour, but it’s always balanced with a semblance of hopeful progression).
Pig excels as an intricate performance piece. Without much in terms of dialogue or dramatic emotional swings, Nicolas Cage unearths potent textures from even the slightest of frames. The actor consistently imbues commanding gravitas into Rob’s solemnly worn face, elevating the character’s arduous state into something deeply profound. Cage’s firm presence dominates the film, yet Alex Wolff’s assured supporting work stands just as tall. As Amir, Wolff represents the film’s largest evolution as a socialite growing past his oppressively superficial tendencies. The actor’s sincere chemistry as unlikely kindred spirits helps the script’s simmering emotions reach a full boil.
Still, Sarnoski’s first offering suffers from a few familiar debut falterings. The script rests its laurels on thematic idealism, a decision that can occasionally leave the characters with sparse dimensionality. It leaves a lot of heavy lifting to the talented leads, and while they are well-suited for the task, the well-orchestrated character beats could have landed an even higher impact with more specificity.
Pig is delicate and deeply empathetic at its best. Sarnoski, Block, Wolff, and Cage work to explore personal sentiments in a moving portrait of human fragility.
NEON releases Pig in theaters nationwide on July 16.
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