Pig ★★★½

"I don't fuck my pig."

Film Independent screener.

The Truffle Hunters, but less cute.

Merely a coincidence I suppose that those films came out within the same year, as aside from that Tuber similarity they have virtually nothing in common, the contemplative soliloquy and stirring debut from writer/director Michael Sarnoski is a meditative drama that some have called an "anti-revenge" flick. This gifted young filmmaker has succeeded in tone and visual mood with this surprisingly affecting story, and a reliably uber-committed performance from Nic Cage. I am not unreservedly in love with Pig, but I appreciate how it feels like nothing else released this year.

Cage plays Robin "Rob" Feld, formerly a chef but now a reclusive forager in Oregon. His prized pig hunts for decadent truffles valued in Portland by the top restaurants; young ingredients supplier Amir (Alex Wolff) pays top dollar for them. So priceless is his accomplice that Rob's pig is stolen one night, as he's assaulted and left dazed. Asking Amir for help, they theorize she's been taken by drug addicts who sold her for money to someone in the big city. Their search leads to a surprising relationship between the two men, as Rob suspects that former colleague Derek (David Knell) may be connected. Amir asks his father Darius (Adam Arkin) for advice on how to handle the strange and disheveled Rob, who nonetheless is determined to find his porcine partner. His former legendary status in Portland means he knows he will get answers.

Sarnoski likely knew what audiences were expecting when he cast Nic Cage in a movie that we would hear as "guy's pig gets stolen, he does anything to get her back." And smartly he absolutely subverts those expectations almost every step of the way. Doses of humour and violence come in the oddest places and times, though they're not common and the vast majority of Pig teases you with hints of John Wick or Mandy but pulls the rug out from under you. Instead, the shadowy figure whose backstory we only gradually learn in bits is secondary to a satirical analysis of elite hypocrisy that Rob points out "is not real." Assailing the vapid trends of high-end cooking, restaurants, and the upper-class itself, despite Rob's ghastly appearance and uncouth demeanor he has more values and decency in his pinky finger than anyone else he meets on his search. That he better understands what really matters in life is soon no surprise when we spend just a minute with the shallow pricks with whom he interacts.

But I didn't always grasp or ride with the vacillating tone of Pig, which shifts abruptly from foul-mouthed scavenger hunt to heart-rending drama, then from scathing tragicomedy to arthouse mood piece. It doesn't mean that I needed Sarnoski to settle on one theme, but the quick changes did mean it was a little more challenging with which to engage. Some elliptical storytelling makes for a lot of symbolism that doesn't always work. And I couldn't help but feel that Alex Wolff is a little miscast, as his character was never not annoying even though I assume we are meant to see him grow and develop emotional maturity.

A final finicky point: Sarnoski's script has some odd pronoun shifting or just laziness in consistency. Rob calls his beloved pig "it" just as often as he says "she," and any pet lover knows that this makes absolutely no sense. Your pet is not an object; they are a friend and family member. I can't decide if he didn't care about this discrepancy or didn't notice it. Either way, it's a simple mistake but a problematic one that soon consumed me as I listened for which word was used throughout the film. I'm not sure if that's the mark of an inexperienced writer or what, but it bothered me.

Oh, also, truffles are kind of gross. They taste like moldy cheese.

Friend who wrote a better review than me: Gavin Petty.

Added to The Narrative Films of 2021, ranked.
Added to 2022 Independent Spirit Awards Nominees, ranked.

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