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2021, Drama/Mystery & thriller, 1h 32m

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Critics consensus.

Like the animal itself, Pig defies the hogwash of expectations with a beautiful odyssey of loss and love anchored by Nicolas Cage's affectingly raw performance. Read critic reviews

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Slow and strange but well-written and acted, Pig has some profound messages about life for viewers willing to settle in for the ride. Read audience reviews

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review of film pig

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What a beguiling, confounding film "Pig" is. From start to finish, it never moves as you might expect it to. I watched it with a friend who checked out halfway through because it wasn't the movie she was hoping it would be—basically “ John Wick ,” but with a pig, wherein a long-haired forest hermit named Rob ( Nicolas Cage ) gets bloody revenge against the criminals who kidnapped his truffle-hunting best friend. There are aspects of it that cannot be said to "work" in any conventional filmmaking sense, but it's hard to imagine that the writer/director, Michael Sarnoski , and its star and co-producer, Nicolas Cage, lost a minute of sleep over anything like that, and its commitment to its own oddball vision is what makes it linger in the mind. For these reasons and more, "Pig" is on a short list of movies I loved that I wish I hadn't been assigned to write about, because I so enjoyed not having any idea what I was in for. No matter how circumspect I try to be in this review, I'm certain to tell you something you'd rather have stumbled into on your journey. (There endeth the spoiler warning.)

The film begins with the hero, Cage's quiet and introverted woodsman Rob, in a cabin with his pig, who is referred to only as Pig. We see them hunting for truffles together, and we watch Rob doting on Pig and cooking up mushrooms in a pan. Pig appears to have a knack for finding exquisite fungi. A younger man named Amir ( Alex Wolff ) shows up to buy a haul of truffles. We're given to understand that Amir is Rob's main source of income, but that he doesn't need much because he's committed to living off the grid, communing with nature and nursing a motherlode of grief over a woman. We don't know how he lost her, only that he has audio recordings of her that he can't bring himself to play. 

And then Pig is kidnapped in the middle of the night, pulled out of the house squealing. Rob is anguished. He wants to go to the nearest big city, Portland, because he's pretty sure that's where she is and he has a vague idea of who might've taken her. 

But if you're expecting a rampage, you'd better find another movie. There's a little bit of violence in this film. It's unglamorous and brutal, and thus not easy to watch. But even though Cage's shaggy man-mountain look evokes his star turn in 1997's " Con Air ," this is not a revenge picture, or even much of an "action movie"  per se —unless you count scenes where Rob, a soft-spoken but keenly observant man, verbally batters other people by saying things that strike them in a deep place. He's not being abusive, just telling the truth as he sees it. But the impact is devastating.

We don't know anything about Rob when the movie begins, nor do we know what kind of world "Pig" is set in. Is it a realistic universe like " Leave No Trace " or something stylized, like in the Wick films? More the former than the latter, although there are somewhat unreal or expressionistic elements. 

The big one is the underground network of chefs, sous-chefs, restaurant owners, and food and equipment suppliers operating in and around Portland. This secret society appears to have a code, a history, and secrets. Rob was once a legendary part of it, until he dropped out for reasons that are not entirely cleared up by the movie's end. Rob's photographic memory comes in handy while trying to find Pig; in one scene, he identifies a maitre'd ( David Knell ) as somebody he worked with for exactly two months many long years ago. He reminds him of the fantasy restaurant he once described to Rob, and asks him whether he ever tried to make it happen.

It's easy to see why Cage wanted to be in this movie. Rob is a great character, a philosopher-monk identified by Amir as a practicing Buddhist, but also a Christ figure, a clown, and a regular guy who, catastrophic losses notwithstanding, is too full of himself to connect and heal. He's full of mystery and tenderness, with hints of repressed despair and rage. He doesn't talk much at first, but grows more verbose as the story unfolds, probably as a result of Rob reentering society and being forced to use communication skills he'd been keeping in storage. The script and direction regard nature with the eyes of people who are comfortable in it. When the film moves to the city, the urban landscapes are as oppressive as the forest was comforting. 

Cage seems at home smell-testing mushrooms and searing them in a pan, enduring a savage beating, and philosophizing with various supporting characters, and bonding with Amir, the film's second lead. The film's treatment of Cage is reminiscent of the way Bill Murray was used by Wes Anderson in " Rushmore ." It's a young man's empathetic fantasy of middle age. 

Pairing Rob and Amir throughout the movie rather than staying with Rob the whole time turns out to be the film's masterstroke. As written by Sarnoski, and as played by Wolff, one of the most original young leading men in movies, Amir is as compelling a character as Rob, even though he lacks the older man's ruined grandeur. He's a self-aware mediocrity who would be less depressed if he were dumber and couldn't see his own shortcomings so clearly. Amir thinks he is owed more than he has but isn't sure why he feels that way and is not inclined to investigate or question that feeling. His truffle resale business in Portland is part of a strategy of wealth-chasing and self-improvement. His habit of obsessively listening to classical music and music education tapes in his car confirms that this is a person who feels that he has no class and is trying to acquire some via shortcuts. 

The young Jeff Goldblum and Richard Dreyfuss used to excel at playing characters like Amir. Wolff is in their weight class. There are several stunned reaction shots of Wolff in this film that are as entrancing as whatever Cage was doing to trigger that look, because Wolff is such a good listener that somehow you can feel him absorbing what's happening in a scene even when the camera isn't on him.

When the movie puts the two characters together in Amir's car, or on a street where we can appreciate the actors' extreme height difference, they become a classic comedy team: Rob the grizzled old prospector and Amir the urban neurotic, looking for a pig in the city. Even though it was shot in 2019, the sensibility of "Pig" is that of a mid-1970s picaresque character study about smart, sad guys living on the fringes—the kind of film that would have featured lens flares and zooms and slow-motion montages of people frolicking, and perhaps a harmonica-centric score by Henry Mancini . 

Accordingly, "Pig" freely commits to a storytelling aesthetic that will be described as slow, digressive, unfocused, and probably a lot other pejoratives by anyone who is not able or inclined to get on its admittedly peculiar wavelength. While conceding that it won't be everyone's, or even most people's, cup of tea, I prefer to accept everything it does with an open mind and heart, because it's so clearly an open-minded and open-hearted film. It's attentive to regret and failure in ways that American films tend to avoid for fear of bumming viewers out and making them warn other people not to watch the movie. And it seems to understand the way people mythologize others and themselves, and the reasons it happens. The world of "Pig" is as desolate and cruel as ours, but smaller. Everybody in it seems to know everybody else. And still nobody cares. Except for the hero, who loves his pig.

Opens on Friday, July 16th.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of RogerEbert.com, TV critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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Film credits.

Pig movie poster

Rated R for language and some violence.

Nicolas Cage as Rob

Alex Wolff as Amir

Adam Arkin as Darius

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Gretchen Corbett as Mac

Dalene Young as Jezebel

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Nicolas Cage in “Pig.”

By Jeannette Catsoulis

Shielded by a rat’s-nest beard and layers of decaying clothing, Rob (Nicolas Cage) lives in a rudimentary cabin in the Oregon wilderness with his beloved pig. Together, they forage for truffles that Rob barters for necessities when Amir (an indispensable Alex Wolff) makes his weekly visit. The truffles are bound for high-end Portland restaurants; when the pig is stolen, her owner will be compelled to follow the fungi.

“Pig,” Michael Sarnoski’s stunningly controlled first feature, is a mournful fable of loss and withdrawal, art and ambition. Told in three chapters and a string of beautifully delineated scenes, the movie flirts with several genres — revenge drama, culinary satire — while committing to none. Instead, Sarnoski takes us on an enigmatic journey as Rob searches for his pet and revisits a life he long-ago abandoned.

Pit stops at an underground fight club for restaurant workers, and at a favorite baker for a prized salted baguette, are both moving and strange, leaving us with more questions than answers. Once, Rob had stature in this world; now, in the words of Amir’s powerful father, Darius (Adam Arkin), he no longer even exists. Yet he and Darius are the same: twin disconsolates, imprisoned by heartbreak. And while “Pig” can at times feel engulfed by its own sullenness, there’s a rigor to the filmmaking and a surreal beauty to Pat Scola’s images that seal our investment in Rob’s fate.

Cage is superb here, giving Rob a subdued implacability and a voice that initially croaks from disuse and later swells with quiet conviction. When Rob delivers a speech about the madness of choosing profit over dreams, it lands with the full weight of an actor who seems to know whereof he speaks.

Pig Rated R for an extended beat down. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.

review of film pig

‘Pig’ Gives Us a Sadder Nicolas Cage — But Not Without Rage

By K. Austin Collins

K. Austin Collins

It’s the pig’s terrified squeals that get you. Pig , written and directed by Michael Sarnoski and starring Nicolas Cage as a man named Rob, opens with one man’s idea of an ideal life: isolated, routine, divorced from the facades of everyday life among others. He lives in middle-of-nowhere Oregon, out in the woods, off the grid but for a man named Amir (Alex Wolff), a buyer who’s occasional visits are Rob’s only contact with civilization — if Amir, with his slick hair, bright yellow whip, and blistering air of overcompensation is what you’d call civilization. Amir is something of a sentient vibe-killer. Whereas Rob’s life, as depicted by Sarnoski and sensitively, maybe preeningly lensed by cinematographer Patrick Scola, is a soft, solitary vibe, the environs of a man who’s at one with his surroundings, who takes care in even his minor gestures and pride in the consummate craft he wields to accomplish even the most ordinary things.

Rob lives with his beloved truffle pig, who is no mere pet and amounts to far more than the labor she so lovingly offers. But it helps that she’s good at what she does, prized by a buyer like Amir for having the kind of nose for truffles on which he can snivelingly build his career. For Rob, it’s bigger than the work, of course. The man and his pig adore each other. She’s maybe the only living thing he hasn’t left behind — and it’s clear from the start, without it needing to be said, that Rob’s is a life that’s seen tragedy. 

This being the movie that it is, only more tragedy awaits. The source of those memorable, terrifying squeals is this: A pair of meth addicts arrive in the night, beat Rob with a metal bat, steal his pig, and — well, then the movie happens. Thus Pig morphs into a movie about a man on a mission. But its interest in the world of Rob’s apparent past is of more than passing interest. Because a character played by Nicolas Cage is, even in the most dire circumstances and the most worthless movie, usually of more than passing interest. He’s that consistently disconcerting, enjoyable when committing to the most deadening bit — admirable, if not enviable, for the sheer, exhausting will of his commitment. 

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Rob is in some ways a character form-fitted to an idea we have of Cage, but only in some ways, and only at this stage of his career. The man of Con Air is not the man we see here, mountain-gruff, with a voice so choked of air at times it’s as if that curtain of a beard on his face were some self-imposed muffle. This isn’t the Cage prone to blown-gasket rage — not at first — but rather, per the Cage of late, a man whose rage has been plastered over with incredible melancholy. Rob is a man so disconnected from life that when he hops into his unused truck to rescue his pig, it quits almost as soon as he gets it going. He’s been off the grid for so long, a decade and a half, that when he shambles into a diner he must have frequented in times past and asks for the owner, an old friend, he learns she’s been dead for ten years. 

But the rage does come, in its own way, and with it, some of the gory, dazzling mania that’s made the actor so singular. The meme of Nicolas Cage paints something of a Pacino-esque arc into readily consumable anger, memes in the making that we’ve somehow come to expect from an actor who’s actually always shown a distinctive range, from the light goofiness of Moonstruck to the utter internal wasteland of Leaving Las Vegas , in which we saw just how far the actor could receded from the blood-thriving humanity that makes a person a person into unknowing hollowness, a vacuum of the spirit with seemingly no bottom. What’s true of the best of these roles, whether recent or old, but harder to meme than the crazy stuff, is the sadness of which Pig knowingly avails itself. It’s a sadness whose glints of the unpredictable are perfect for a movie like this, in which we’re pushed to wonder just how far this character will go. Thanks to Cage, and the pained stiffness in his body (which takes more than one beating), the hare-trigger outrage, the utter tumultuous mess of the man, that question eventually occasions another, more urgent inquiry: Who, exactly, is this man?

As it turns out, Pig has an answer for that, and the answer arrives, in part, by way of Wolff’s Amir, who’s something of a foil for Rob, all uneasy confidence and dash where Cage’s character is largely but a simmer. Wolff, memorable as the terrified son of Ari Aster’s Hereditary , here comes off as a greasy try-hard, with his flashy car, tacky suit, all of it overcompensation, all of it so apparently a matter of social costuming. Amir is the kind of man to rev himself up in the mirror, alone, practicing the pitch he’ll inflict on vendors with the fervor of someone whose biggest hurdle isn’t the people he needs on his side, but the man in the mirror. 

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Amir and Rob become an unhappy couple, with the former stepping in — not exactly willingly — to help the latter. Because at the end of the day this is a business, and a lost pig spells trouble for them both. And so Pig descends, somewhat subversively, into an unexpected underground that, aside from Cage, is the best thing about the movie. It’s a pivot largely undermined by the movie’s intentions, however. The loneliness of both of these men is immediately transparent — so much so that when the movie reaches for richness on that front, it strains, it gets obvious. Questions get asked, meaningful monologues doled out, all of it with the film’s final scenes already in mind, all of it with a naked sense of emotional architecture that deepens the proceedings only barely. It risks getting in the actors’ way.

At some point, Pig begins to feel like too much of a posture atop an otherwise solid, motivating, intriguing core of a movie. Somehow, for all the care taken in Pig ’s aesthetic moods, with everything here, from set design to music to color grading and physical texture as artisanally articulated and preened as a prize-winning chef’s once-in-a-lifetime meal — somehow, what often comes across most clearly are the contrivances of the script. Good moments abut clumsier ones; the movie succumbs to the rhythms of steadily doled-out backstories and sympathies. But it doesn’t need to. A great many of the details — the objects and interactions in themselves, from the color of Amir’ car to the waste of Rod’s clothing to the way a room full of people reacts to mere mention of Rob’s full name — already speak clearly. 

Predictably, we cannot rely on our first impressions of these men. That’s not a flaw; it’s a premise. The flaw sneaks in with the constant signalling toward something more significant, a problem that arises almost as soon as Pig pivots to something like a road movie dynamic, one of those odd couple affairs in which any initial differences between these two men will dissolve once proximity forces them into richer understandings of each other. 

But more interesting by a longshot is Pig ’s fantasy of a grim Portland underworld — one it accesses through the world of foodies and the high-class nothingness so present in many food scenes, all of it ripe for ribbing of sort that this movie happily indulges. There’s the surface, the world in which small plates of high-priced but indescribable meals and local wines and critical snobbery disguised as taste rules the lives of restaurant workers who dare to have individual imagination and ambition. This is the world Rob excoriates: “Every day,” he warns one man, “you’ll wake up and there’ll be less of you.” Is this why Rob fled to the forest? Or is it the other part that drove him away: the underworld beneath that facade, with its overtones of Fight Club brutality, its secret thoroughfare leading to worlds of the past, its criminal poaching and stylishly dismal lack of light?

Either way, the world into which Rob is unwillingly forced to return is the stuff that makes Pig worth watching. The movie is both laudibly earnest and, conversely, slightly hollow for feeling so overly limited to its strict plans, its deck of emotional cards splayed plainly before the viewer with a warying sense of one-to-one screenplay interventions, with this mattering because, later, that . This is a film whose greatest surprises wind up being some of the throwaway moments that exceed the grand scheme, the unpredictable qualities that the actors — and not just Cage, but rather the extended cast — bring to bear on the material. Cage stealing a guy’s bike with a roar. The look on an ex-friend, now-foe’s face when he allows an underground fight to go on for too long. The base, seething desire to see someone getting what they ostensibly, for reasons the movie wisely doesn’t elaborate on, deserve. 

This is the stuff to look out for. The rest, despite being moving, feels limited by design, and not always as wisely. Comparisons already being made between Pig and John Wick , and the math checks out. A man is drawn out of his solitude by violent loss and, through him, a world just beneath the surface of our own is revealed, a whole web of violence and intrigue that nevertheless points back to the man’s own loneliness gets relieved of his dust covers and exposed for our sake. Tonally, Pig takes that loneliness more seriously — but that doesn’t mean the movie itself should be taken more seriously. It’s a good-looking, well-acted movie with a solid kicker. As for the odyssey of emotional nuance that its style and portent seem to promise, it digs beneath the surface, but to a shallower depth than it seems to think.

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Nicholas Cage in the film Pig sitting outdoors while a pig eats out of a bowl next to him

“Pig,” Reviewed: Nicolas Cage Is the Only Reason to Watch

review of film pig

By Richard Brody

The truffle is a bridge object, spanning nature and culture, rustic ways and urbane refinements. Because it’s not grown but found, a culinary gemstone demanding physical labor, venerable traditional knowledge, and amazing animals, it’s an automatic symbol and a cipher that merely awaits the application of chosen meanings. “Pig,” written and directed by Michael Sarnoski (who co-wrote the story with Vanessa Block), is, in that regard, a truffle of a movie, and its premise marks the precious fungus with a hand-wavingly wide and vague symbolism that permeates the entire story, which strains to mean so much and to matter so much that it vitiates itself into illustrative, portentous absurdity. The film is redeemed only by the dour, weary, mournful, stubborn, and wise performance of Nicolas Cage, which is not so much a star turn as the project’s sole raison d’être.

Cage plays a hermit named Robin Feld who lives in a cabin in the woods of Oregon, with his truffle pig. Robin’s isolation is nearly total—he has one client for his truffles, a slick and glib young man named Amir (Alex Wolff), who drives up in a conspicuously expensive sports car and spatters Robin with wisecracks while paying for the delicacies. But Robin’s isolation is emblazoned, from the start, with a very conspicuous single root cause: he is in mourning for a woman, whose death—never dated, never explained—has driven him out of society.

Then, shortly after Amir’s most recent visit, intruders break in, slam Robin to the floor, and steal the pig. There are obvious shades of “John Wick,” both in the uxorious grief and in the animal story. But, unlike Keanu Reeves’s vengeful hitman, Robin isn’t out for revenge, just for his pig. He’s got no one to turn to except Amir, who is persuaded to drive him to the nearby metropolis of Portland. There, what seems like Robin’s floundering and desperate long shot is revealed to be a sharply targeted hunt, because neither Portland nor the foodie scene are foreign to him: in a former life, it turns out, he was one of the city’s major and revered chefs, before heading for the woods fifteen years ago. With Amir’s help, Robin—so cut off from his former milieu that some of his former cohorts had assumed he’d died—makes his way through the city’s high-end dining scene in search of the thieves.

The quest, however, is tinged with absurdities that function like onscreen emojis, there to proclaim what Sarnoski intends to say and nothing more. One emblematic moment, in which Robin trumpets his return, involves his absorbing of atrocious punishment in a secretive underground fight club reserved for the exploitation of the city’s restaurant workers. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that Robin, already banged up by the pig thieves, spends the rest of the film scabbed and bruised and broken and smeared with his own blood, a giant fly in the overchilled vichyssoise of the inhumanly, pretentiously pristine gastronomical showcases that are the way stations of his investigation. Robin’s deep knowledge of Portland history—displaying his sense of tradition underneath the frippery—gradually but ineluctably leads to the movie’s meatball scene, the one that delivers its dose of populist demagogy in a single bite.

That scene takes place in the jewel box of Portland restaurants, a place where a reservation is a precious commodity that requires the formidable pulling of strings. At a meal of a comedically exaggerated chichi-ness, featuring turd-like lumps of emulsified scallops, “on a bed of foraged huckleberry foam,” under a dome of smoke, the stained and snaggle-toothed and blood-crusted Robin confronts the celebrated chef (David Knell), the toast of Portland, and calmly, patiently, surgically insults his cooking, his restaurant, his clientele, his fame, and—underlying it all—his commercial sellout of his erstwhile hearty and populist-cuisine dreams in favor of the frivolous acclaim of people (rich customers and pompous critics) for whom Robin has no respect and no regard. It’s as if grief has burned all worldly aspirations out of Robin, has wrenched the scales from his eyes and revealed the awful truth of the restaurant world and of the world at large. Alone in his cabin, a silent prophet of unvarnished and earthy sincerity—he’s an avatar of honest food , and there’s no deceit in the truffle —the theft of his pig has forced him back into the world and turned him into a vocal prophet whose quiet jeremiad is the linchpin of the movie and the moment in which Sarnoski tips his own hand into overt, banal, and self-justifying message-mongering.

What about the artistry, the aesthetic imagination, the full spectrum of cinematic drama that’s missing from “Pig”? It’s a movie that tells its story with TV-commercial images of a blatantly mood-conditioning simplification, with a skipping-about drama that incarnates its key plot points without seeming to know how or whether its characters exist in between them. This plain and bland realism rests heavily, like a manhole cover, on Robin, keeping down the entire range of experience and knowledge that he bears, his memories and his agonies and his sloughed-off aspirations, which are dosed out as big reveals solely as they serve to connect the dots of the story. Which is to say that “Pig” is not a particularly bad movie in its style, its form, its tone, its conception. It’s merely a painfully ordinary one, an algorithmic movie like many others, catering to the expectations of the moderately mainstream marketplace—not a fast-food movie but ostensibly hearty fare of the kind that Robin upholds as a worthy aspiration, a pleaser of an only lightly filtered and self-selecting crowd. What’s more, the chichi chef is revealed to have been an inadequate assistant, an ostensible master building his fraudulent glory on the hollow foundation of a lack of craft, of deficient professionalism. (That’s how the mediocre mainstream has ever damned the boldly original.) Whatever kinds of creative flourishes or audaciously original concepts go into making an exceptional movie (like an exceptional restaurant) are, here, relegated to the realm of the insincere, the arch, the unredeemably artificial and artsy—and of the pretentious, false viewers and critics who seek them out and pretend to enjoy them.

What’s left, however, is Cage’s trudging, punished performance. Competence is hardly the point; more or less any of the talented actors of Hollywood acclaim could bring allure and emotion to the role of Robin. But there’s one particular and peculiar aspect of the role that Cage seems to own and that he endows with the depth and burden of his own character and experience: martyrdom. Perhaps only Willem Dafoe, nearly of Cage’s generation, bears the same sense of self-torment, though Dafoe also glows with a non-militaristic martial hardness that converts affliction to energy. For Cage, the pain is the point: he conveys the sense of drinking deep of agony, as if deserving it, and Sarnoski takes full advantage of that artistic persona. The character that Cage portrays is incoherent, illustrative, and ludicrous, and yet his portrayal makes the movie. Cage turns its unreflective dramatic form and unchallenging narrative conventions into a kind of living nightmare, which bypasses the movie’s mediocre ideas and trivial plot and raises it—if only a few fleeting moments at a time—into the realm of the extraordinary. On the other hand, a director who understands such cinematic martyrdom profoundly—Paul Schrader—cast both Cage and Dafoe in the wild crime drama “ Dog Eat Dog ,” from 2016, which offers Cage a spectacular climactic scene of tragicomic martyrdom and terrifying fury. Stream it instead.

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review of film pig

Pig (2021) Review

Pig (2021)

Pignapping could do that to a person, but it can’t be the whole story. What makes the rest of the film special isn’t Cage’s single-minded quest for Apple but the world he re-enters: a Portland haute-cuisine dining scene that’s almost comically cutthroat (it even has its own secret fight club). Rob’s only connection to human beings is a Camaro-driving truffle-dealer and wannabe hotshot named Amir ( Alex Wolff , tapping oceans of squirmy insecurity), who chauffeurs him around to various exclusive restaurants. The dynamic feels like the one in Rain Man between Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise: “He’s Buddhist,” says Amir apologetically to a gatekeeper.

You begin to notice how confidently Cage moves through kitchens. Everyone keeps Rob at a wary distance, and that intimidation is a clue to his past. Once in a while, Pig falls into middlebrow foodie-movie clichés (ah, the power of a simple salted baguette), but for the most part, debuting writer-director Michael Sarnoski seasons his tale of personal apocalypse with a light hand. He’s given his star — so often dwarfed by his own worst instincts — a pathway back to something real, and that’s a gift that won’t be fully appreciated for a while. The film’s earthy flavours linger. It’s the aroma of redemption.

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‘Pig’ Review: Nicolas Cage Is at His Melancholic Best in This Strange, Sad Porcine Drama

A million miles from ‘Peggy Sue Got Married,’ Cage goes searching for his beloved truffle pig — and himself — in Michael Sarnoski’s intimate character study.

By Michael Nordine

Michael Nordine


Nicolas Cage isn’t just an actor; he’s a state of mind. Having transcended meme status with evocative performances in director-driven genre fare like “Mandy” and “Color Out of Space,” the Oscar winner delivers his best performance in years as a chef-turned-recluse who briefly reenters society in writer-director Michael Sarnoski ’s “ Pig .” His return isn’t a happy one, however: Robin (Cage) only leaves the Oregonian wilderness after his beloved truffle pig is violently taken from him. Less revenge thriller than intimate character study, “Pig” is above all else a reminder that Cage is among the most gifted, fearless actors working today.

Robin’s routine is simple: He and his pig forage for truffles picked up once a week by his sole contact with the outside world (Alex Wolff), with many fine meals and quiet moments in between. It’s clear from the outset that this bearded, disheveled man isn’t entirely well and was driven into the woods by an unspecified trauma he’s in no rush to share with the world, but the humble existence he and his unnamed pet have been eking out seems to be enough for him — in some ways it’s even idyllic. It can’t last, of course, and we’ve only just met the precocious porker when she’s kidnapped by unidentified evildoers.

What first impresses about “Pig” is the way it manages to feel both out there and grounded, often at the same time. Aside from the obviously far-fetched nature of its premise, it includes everything from an underground fight club for restaurant workers to chapter titles like “Rustic Mushroom Tart” and “Mom’s French Toast and Deconstructed Scallops.” But it never slips into absurdity, with Sarnoski’s sparse dialogue complemented by a fittingly low-key score courtesy of Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein. That’s also why it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Cage in the lead role: No one else can simultaneously embrace and elevate inherently ridiculous plot developments like he can while finding something close to the profound in it all.

“I remember a time when your name meant something to people, Robin,” comments the first person he sees upon his return to Portland. “But now? You have no value. You don’t even exist anymore.” The secret of this past self hums alongside the mystery of the pig’s whereabouts, and is no less compelling for the fact that Robin’s heartbreak is visible in every line on his face and every grey hair on his head. Cage pours himself into the performance, bringing a blunt earnestness to laugh cues like “I don’t fuck my pig” and “Your dad sounds terrible” that manage to be funny without allowing us to laugh at Robin.

None of this would be as effective were it not for Wolff, who plays off Cage with aplomb. The two end up a kind of odd-couple comedy duo, with Max as the straight man trying to keep a low profile and Robin as the unkempt oddball who, throughout the entire ordeal, never wipes the blood off his face or cleans the wounds he sustained while his beloved was being taken from him. Then there’s the unnamed pig herself, who’s both a MacGuffin and a compelling presence despite her limited screen time. Anyone who saw “Gunda” knows how soulful our porcine friends can be, and so it is here.

They never should have taken the pig, just as they never should have taken that stuffed bunny in “Con Air,” but Robin never gives the impression that he’s on the warpath and those who wronged him are about to be sorry. However much we may want “Pig” to turn into something like “John Wick,” Sarnoski refuses the temptation at every return — our hero is simply too worn down to do the sort of things we’re used to seeing Cage do.

As a descent into the apparently high-stakes world of truffle-pig-poaching, “Pig” is unexpectedly touching; as a showcase for Cage’s brilliance, it’s a revelation. “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about,” Robin tells a fellow chef at the end of a stirring monologue about our aspirations, the fleeting nature of success, and everything in between. Whether it be truffles, animal companions, or something entirely different, we should all be lucky enough to care about something as much as Robin cares about his pig, regardless of how it turns out.

Reviewed online, Denver, Co., July 10, 2021. Running time: 92 MIN.

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Nicolas Cage and his truffle-hunting friend in Pig

Pig review – Nicolas Cage hunts for a stolen animal in meditative drama

A familiar revenge thriller setup turns into something quieter and stranger with an unusually restrained performance from the outsized star

T he rabidity that surrounds the cult of Nicolas Cage – a baying midnight movie crowd urging the star to outdo himself with a performance even wilder than the last – has slowly become intolerable in recent years. The Oscar-winning actor, eschewing any semblance of a serious career, has happily obliged his fans, tearing up scenery and spitting it out with manic vigor. But while his outsized acting has proved mysteriously irresistible to some, I’ve found it increasingly grating, a dumb joke that stopped being funny a while ago.

Each new role, usually played to an 11 when a 7 would do, has pushed Cage deeper and deeper into tiresome self-parody, screaming and showboating rather than doing anything of interest, edging further away from the fine, and quiet, work he’s done in films like Leaving Las Vegas, Joe and The Weather Man. On paper, there’s something knowingly silly about his latest – a truffle hunter seeks revenge on whoever stole his pig – but in Michael Sarnoski’s muted debut, Cage is given the time and space to be sincere once again, a rare experience for him and a rewarding one for us. It’s not quite substantial enough to sit alongside his other career highs, but it’s effective enough to make us crave more challenges for Cage, to hear him whisper rather than shout.

In Pig, Cage plays Robin, a man living in the Oregon wilderness with just his pig for company. The pair survive by selling the truffles they find. But when his pig is taken in the middle of the night, Robin is forced to re-enter the world he turned his back on to find out why she was taken and how he can get her back.

It’s a set-up that loosely recalls the John Wick films or, more recently, Nobody and as such, Sarnoski is almost deliberately toying with our expectations of what a film like this starring an actor like Cage will be. We’ve been taught to await a violent backstory and a gnarly comeuppance, but from the early scenes – beautifully shot, slowly unfolding – it’s clear that this is not going to be the revenge thriller we expect. Instead, it’s a surprisingly mournful drama that’s less about getting one’s own back and more about getting one’s self back, an unusual journey that takes Cage, and us, deep into the surprisingly dark foodie world of gentrified Portland. As a renowned ex-chef returning to a city overrun with hipster eateries, he’s both confused and disappointed; but rather than poke fun at easy targets, Sarnoski’s script gives an even-handed view of change, showing how the city has gone too far ahead, but also how Robin has gone too far back.

Cage is remarkably restrained (bar one unnecessary scream), delicately deconstructing what we’ve come to expect from him. His trademark tics are gone, his voice that much softer, his swagger replaced by an unsureness, an aggressive blare that’s faded into calm. It’s his best work for years, bar admittedly low, and shows that underneath the lazy mugging to the cheap seats, he’s still a soulful and careful actor. The film hints at an encouraging new phase (even if his upcoming slate, including a role as Joe Exotic, suggests otherwise), an awareness of what can happen when he’s given the opportunity to do something other than high-volume theatrics. It also hints at exciting things to come from Sarnoski, a gifted visual film-maker, who has assembled a promising, if imperfect, debut.

Pig is ultimately as quiet as Cage is, for better or worse – sometimes too quiet to be truly distinctive, but moving in its look at how grief can throw us off our axis, especially in the film’s final moments. The film is about loss, but for Cage, it’s about finding something. Here’s hoping that he can find it again.

Pig is released in US cinemas on 16 July and in the UK on 20 August

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Pig review: Nicolas Cage’s terrific performance proves he’s more than a meme

His acting often unfairly reduced to gifs and slogans, cage puts in a profoundly moving turn as the bereft owner of a kidnapped truffle pig in michael sarnoski’s feature debut, article bookmarked.

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Dir: Michael Sarnoski. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin. Cert 12A, 92 mins

I’ve become conflicted about the ongoing memeification of Nicolas Cage . All these internet compilations of him howling “How'd it get burned?” or “I’m a vampire!”, clipped from scenes in The Wicker Man or Vampire’s Kiss are, on one level, small celebrations of his unparalleled audacity as an actor. Very few could deliver a scene like the closing moments of 2011’s Drive Angry , where Cage chugs beer out of an enemy’s bloodied skull with the lackadaisical resignation of a dad at a Little League baseball game.

But it all comes at the risk of reducing him to a punchline – and that breeds far too many sincere accusations that he’s a terrible actor. I can only hope that Pig , his latest project, will put a few of those disbelievers in their place. Cage isn’t a maximalist for the hell of it. He is someone who remains unwaveringly, fiercely present in each of his performances. When he describes his acting style as "Nouveau Shamanic”, it’s not just about forging a connection to a character, but inviting that character to possess his body and soul. And Pig is a beautiful demonstration of what that nuance looks like when it’s properly deployed by a talented director.

Writer-director Michael Sarnoski, here making his feature debut, is particularly ingenious in the way he toys with the public’s expectations of Cage as a performer. Pig , in its opening scenes, appears to set itself up as a traditional revenge thriller, albeit with a small twist – imagine Taken if Liam Neeson wasn’t trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter but his kidnapped truffle pig.

Cage plays Robin “Rob” Feld, a former Portland chef turned recluse, who’s boarded himself up in a woodland cabin with nothing but his porcine bunkmate for company. Once a week, he receives a visit from supplier Amir (Alex Wolff), who’ll take any truffles he’s collected and sell them off to the city’s high-end restaurants. But, one night, Rob is assaulted and his pig is taken from him. Early on, Sarnoski hints that Rob may have suffered a terrible loss and that his only means of survival is to remove himself entirely from the world that so deeply wounded him. That pig was all he had left – and he’ll do anything to get her back.


Nicolas Cage’s Rob is half-hidden behind his mountain-man beard, straggly hair, clotted blood, and dishevelled clothes

The expectation here, of course, is that Pig will be another Cage-branded descent into madness. And while it carries with it a near-constant tension that Rob may, at some point, finally explode, what Cage really brings to the role is that sense of profound connection – one that here evokes the wordless but sacrosanct relationship that a person can have with the food that they eat or cook.

Pig is at its very best during its scenes of food preparation, as Sarnoski allows his film to quiet down to a whisper. Cage’s Rob may be half-hidden behind his mountain-man beard, straggly hair, clotted blood (from the attack, which he never thinks to wash off), and dishevelled clothes, but it only brings greater attention to how lost and soulful those crystal-blue eyes can look. It’s a quality that’s rarely been taken advantage of since his early days as the Eighties dream boy of Peggy Sue Got Married and Valley Girl .

Pig may belong to Cage, but it doesn’t work solely because of him – and he’s found an excellent scene partner in Wolff. The former Nickelodeon star has transformed his career by subverting expectations and chasing darker, more adventurous projects like My Friend Dahmer and Hereditary . Over time, he’s carved out an impressive niche for himself, mastering a specific kind of sweaty desperation barely concealed by twitchy confidence – exactly the personality you’d imagine for an upstart truffle supplier. Pig shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone who’s been following these men’s careers, but it’s a perfect reminder of how easily we can underestimate people.

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