There’s a certain expectation that’s set when a movie’s logline boils down to “Someone steals Nicolas Cage’s pig, and so he sets out to get it back.” Pig’s premise—widely compared, after the release of its trailer, to that of John Wick (which saw Keanu Reeves wipe out a group of Russian gangsters in retaliation for killing his pet puppy)—and the casting of Cage suggest a gonzo action flick. If that’s what you’re after, Pig won’t necessarily disappoint you, but this thriller is not really comparable to anything that’s come before it. A healthy serving of carnage doused with some original-recipe Cage rage aren’t really the movie’s main course. Instead, director Michael Sarnoski aims to serve up an existential crisis.
Cage stars as Rob, a man whose entire existence seems to revolve around the truffle pig with whom he lives. Together, they go hunting for the delectable fungi in the woods outside of Portland. At home, in a little shack, Rob cooks meals for the two of them. It’s apparent that some kind of trauma has driven Rob to where he is now, but otherwise, his life seems idyllic, interrupted only by visits from Amir (Alex Wolff), an unctuous up-and-comer in the truffle trade who shows up at the foragers’ door to take the precious tubers off their hands (hooves?). Amir and Rob are polar opposites—if anything, Amir comes across as a mix between Succession’s Roman and Kendall Roy—but Amir is the only other person in Rob’s orbit, which also makes him the only person Rob can turn to when, in the middle of the night, someone kidnaps his beloved hog.
One stop on the duo’s journey to retrieve the pig does involve getting bloody, but otherwise, the Wick comparisons can really only be drawn to the way Sarnoski makes Portland’s food scene, into which Amir and Rob must dive, feel like a labyrinth. Pig is unpredictable, not because it doesn’t draw out a clear arc—it does—but because it defies the conventions we’ve been led to expect from movies like it. Rob is an inexorable force, but his talent isn’t for gun-fu or murdering his enemies with a pencil. It’s for seeing the truth. As the movie slowly doles out details of his past, it also reveals why Rob is so good at homing in on the decisions that people regret or are too afraid to make. And those scenes—quiet, measured, psychological close reads—are devastating. Fear of failure is a common emotion, and one that can often make the road less traveled seem like it’s not a real option. When confronted with that explicitly, characters crumble like towers of sand.
Pig also ventures into the realm of sense memory, with Proustian moments that drive its characters back into their own histories, pushing the film deeper into contemplative depths its revenge-movie premise would never really suggest. But to give anything further away would ruin the fun. Pig is a small film with a few big surprises executed very well, and well worth going into as blind as possible.
In recent years, Cage has become a pop culture curio, but he’s the kind of actor who never gives less than 100 percent in any given role, and often gives quite a bit more. The best of his recent roles, in Kick-Ass, Into the Spider-Verse, and Mandy, have capitalized on the total earnestness that he seems incapable of letting go. That furrow in his brow suggests less a willingness to fight and more a permanent state of concern—there’s something about his now well-worn features that immediately reads as vulnerability, as if he wouldn’t strike back if you made fun of him but would be hurt, deep down. It’s this quality, at odds with the tough-guy roles he’s often slotted into, that makes him so magnetic and fascinating to watch, and so perfect in Pig. And though it’s a tall order to act as his scene partner, Wolff pulls it off, striking a delicate balance between inner insecurity and outward entitlement that deteriorates as the movie goes on.
At the end of the day, Pig is a little slim, which is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing in that it’s not contorting itself to set up a sequel or open up into a broader universe, a curse in that it wraps up so neatly that it feels almost abbreviated. Then again, to go on too long would spoil the relatively simple story Sarnoski is trying to tell. Sometimes the best meals are the ones that leave you wanting more.