“Pig” may be the strangest movie to come out this year — but only in concept. The film is calm, measured, and generally sophisticated. Michael Sarnoski employs filmmaking that is extremely deliberate, and purposefully slow, which typically makes it more engaging. Each line and action hold more meaning because of the silent anticipation that comes before it.
For a thriller, it has very little thrills. For a movie about Nicolas Cage desperately searching for a pig, it is far more respectable than one would expect.
The rumors are true, Cage undeniably gives one of his best performances of the last decade. His character Rob is fascinating, mysterious, and imbued with subtle emotions that maintain his mountain-man persona while showing his emotional vulnerability at key moments. While lines like, “I want my pig,” are pretty hilarious, you never fail to believe that Cage genuinely wants the pig. Alex Wolff’s Amir is a perfect contrast to Rob, which provides the film with enough humor and philosophical conflict for the thin premise to remain engaging.
While “Pig” is an inherently funny concept, at its core, it is a film about loss, self-identity and truth. Some of these themes are explored with more sophistication than others, but each have their own rightful place. This is thanks largely in part to Sarnoski and director of photography Patrick Stola’s gorgeous yet understated cinematography. The film is mainly dark and realistic, but the colors of nature and earth are bold, saturated and constantly reminding us of the film’s themes in subtle ways.
Humanity and its over-the-top edifices like the fancy restaurants, mansions, and criminal underground are all dark, and lit in ways that compliment the corrupt atmosphere. However, the nature surrounding Rob’s cabin are bright, full of life, and extremely pleasant to look at. It is no wonder that Rob is drawn to this lifestyle. Even his pig is glowing with a rare hue of orange.
These vibrant colors could also be indicative of the film’s overarching theme of loss. While the foliage is beautiful, its autumn colors imply that they are near the end of their life before the barren winter. This compliments the idea that life is most beautiful when fragile, near death, or ready to be taken away.
Mild spoilers ahead …
The film was strong as a whole, but early in the second act there was a string of questionable scenes that threatened to take the viewer out of it. Rob getting the crap kicked out of him somehow leading to getting an essential piece of information did not make much sense, and seemed like more of an action cliché to prove that “our protagonist can take a punch!” Do we really care? What protagonist can’t take a punch? We watched Rob get knocked half to death ten minutes ago, we know he’s tough. This was followed by a fairly muddled conversation between Amir and Rob, which clumsily laid out backstory before becoming unintelligibly abstract.
Finally, they get to Finway’s pretentious restaurant where the most bizarre interaction of the film comes to fruition. Rob verbally breaks Chef Finway as though he were a three-year-old child, and David Knell’s performance is not much better than one. This scene will make you wince and feels more like a teenager’s fantasy about standing up to their bully with big words than an actual human interaction. The most troubling part is, this scene is, in its essence, the thesis of the film: fancy restaurant bad, staying true to self good…It fumbles the big idea.
This scene also called to attention one of the greatest overarching problems in the film. Nic Cage’s character is essentially a god. He is a chef extraordinaire, a verbal mastermind, a voice of morality, and can take a punch! Besides being visibly filthy, there is not much that Rob needs to change about himself. In fact, he is at times too powerful. It would have been nice if Wolff’s character, or anyone, could get a few good blows in at Cage’s seemingly indefatigable persona, but alas, his stoic gaze grinded everyone to dust.
Some of these early flaws threaten to take the viewer out of this otherwise down-to-earth movie. However, there are plenty of things to like that allow it to suffice as a genuinely good film. I never thought I would receive such euphoric catharsis from watching Nicolas Cage wash his face in a river.
Even if the film isn’t perfect at times: Nicolas Cage has to find his pig for ninety minutes — don’t pretend you aren’t curious to see how this turned out.