Michael Sarnoski’s directorial debut, Pig, is quite misleading when you notice that Nicolas Cage is involved with it. You would think it is about a man seeking revenge for his lost swine in the style of John Wick or something like Mandy (2018), but it is a different movie than that. It is a character-driven drama about the little things that help remember people of their pasts. Even though it touches on emotional and all-embracing themes, it feels bland and incomplete in its first two acts.
The story is simple to follow; it centers around an ex-chef, now truffle hunter named Rob (Nicolas Cage) who lives secluded in the Oregon wilderness. One day after picking out some truffles, his prized and beloved pig is stolen. Rob then asks for Amir’s (Alex Wolff) help to find the person who was responsible for his missing companion as they revisit and confront people from their past. It is divided into parts named after various recipes. A rustic mushroom tart, mom’s French toast, deconstructed scallops, or a rare wine accompanied by fowl and a salted baguette. Each of these recipes is seen throughout the film in different periods of their journey.
Pig can be compared to Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow (2020), which was last year’s critical darling, even though it is not as strong nor profound. They have similarities in their narrow style, cinematography, and both include a treasured animal. They use subtlety and simplicity as their main ingredients, and it helps to bring more lawyers onto a film that might seem light. When it comes to their subject matter, they are quite the opposite. As Reichardt focused on friendship and searching for your place in the world, Sarnoski uses loneliness, grief, and revisiting your past as his focal points.
There is one big difference between the two, First Cow has engaging and compelling factors within its lucidity. Reichardt knows how to varnish a scene, even without dialogue, and explore different ways to expand a character’s arc. In this case, you are not interested in any character that much. None of them are explored, except for Cage’s Rob. Also, Sarnoski’s film does not shine in its first two acts; they feel unpolished, dry, and insipid. It is not until the last act where the “so-called” gut punches come into play and uplift the film.
One of the few aspects that benefit Pig is Nicolas Cage’s subtle and restrained performance. It is rare to see Cage so subdued and nuanced; he mostly goes over the top with his roles, for better or worse. You appreciate his performance more than usual due to the difference of not seeing him in an exaggerated appearance. It has been years since he has delivered a role like this. Meanwhile, his co-lead’s character, Amir, is not explored enough, leaving Alex Wolff without much to do with his role.
Pig is an earnest character-driven drama that concentrates on finding meaning in the smaller things while pivoting onto stronger themes of grief and solitude adjoined to a nice score by Alexis Graspas and Philip Kelin. Unfortunately, it fails to captivate in its first two acts and the pacing makes the film feel longer than it is. Sarnoski tries to be as subtle as possible and some aspects are elevated because of it, however, most of the film is uninteresting and withered.