After fruitful recent acting collaborations with some alpacas in Color Out of Space and a CGI white jaguar in Primal, our patron saint of the fine arts Nicolas Cage has now teamed up with an undoubtedly cute pig in Pig. He plays Robin Feld, a former chef turned truffle farmer living like a hermit out in the Oregonian wilderness with his beloved foraging pig. With an eclectic array of pets in his personal life over the years, it should be no surprise that Nic has such vibrant chemistry with his co-star. Since he also played a guinea pig named Speckles in 2009’s G-Force, he’s obviously well acquainted with the inner workings of the animal mind, and the tranquil early scenes express an authentic and heartfelt connection with his lovely snorting companion.
But when the pig is abruptly and violently stolen, Robin, aided by his young wannabe-hotshot buyer Amir (Alex Wolff), reluctantly travels back into the city and the life he left behind in order to stir up some commotion and sniff out the kidnappers. But while all signs seem to be pointing to a porcine riff on John Wick, this debut feature from director Michael Sarnoski takes a quieter and more introspective approach. With the woodsy Oregon backdrop and delicate nature of the narrative, Pig is far closer to the work of Kelly Reichardt, particularly the devastating lost-dog saga Wendy and Lucy, than the Mandy-esque tale of vengeance that pre-release hype seemed to indicate.
Cage follows the film’s lead and turns in a wonderfully subdued performance, which contrasts strikingly with Robin’s increasingly unkempt and dirty appearance (the bloody wounds he suffers during the kidnapping at the film’s start remain humourously unattended to throughout). It’s a level of restraint akin to his turn in Joe, but even then he didn’t reach the same level of internal emotional depth as he does here in reckoning with the possibility that he may never see his best friend again.
And unlike Joe, which was somewhat of an exhaustingly somber affair, Pig makes sure to keep a sly sense of humour in check. There’s a lot of fun to be had in watching Robin traverse a pretentious local organic fine dining scene that resembles something out of a “Portlandia” sketch, intimidating haughty chefs with a hostile glare and a few cutting remarks. Clearly aware of the power of Cage, Sarnoski gives him plenty of instantly iconic dialogue to work with. Come for Cage calmly uttering lines like “I don’t fuck my pig”; stay for a trenchant evocation of the futility of revenge within a powerful tale of interspecies friendship.