I hate starting out a review with criticisms, but let’s just get my major criticism of 2021’s Nicolas Cage-led film Pig out of the way okay.
In modern cinema, there are two reoccurring issues across major blockbusters and arthouse films alike: First, the sound. I don’t know if it’s a sound mixing issue or what, but I can’t count how many times I’ve resorted to using subtitles so I can follow the dialogue in a film (and television, for that matter). Secondly, lighting. Even films that aren’t leaning into that aesthetic because of genre expectations, like a horror film, are poorly lit, and again, I don’t know if that’s an intentional choice or not? Or who is to blame. I mean, the buck stops with the director, but is it also a cinematography issue?
The latter is my issue with Pig, so much so that it distracted me. Michael Sarnoski, director, and Patrick Scola, cinematographer, made a dark film. No, not the story and script, also by Sarnoski (and Vanessa Block). The visual elements of the film. It’s so dark! Maybe it was my screening and theater. That could be it, and if so, my apologies to Sarnoski and Scola.
I don’t like feeling like I’m straining to hear dialogue and see what’s going on in a given scene.
Anyhow, with that out of the way, let me back up. Cage plays Rob, a renowned chef in Portland, who I reckon after the death of his wife, goes into the wilderness for more than 10 years with a truffle pig.
His truffle pig gets stolen and he wants the pig back. He uses the help of Amir (played by Alex Wolff), who is the son of a rich businessman, Darius (played by Adam Arkin), to help hunt down his truffle-hunting pig. At first, it seems like he wants the pig back for the truffle business, but we later learn, no, he loves the pig.
Cage is a fantastic actor. Yes, he’s gone through his action movie phase (and those are fun movies), and his blockbuster leading man phase, and then his downward phase when he was bankrupt and taking a paycheck for any and every awful movie, but lately, he seems to be back on the track of reminding the world of the man who earned an Oscar, rightly, for Leaving Las Vegas.
One of the best scenes I’ve seen in a film in a long time is when Rob and Amir go to a fancy restaurant in Portland where Rob asks to speak to the chef. The chef comes to the table and it turns out, Rob fired that chef years ago for overcooking his pasta. The tense back-and-forth between those two, with the chef playing scared because of Darius, is fantastically well-done. I was ready for some unhinged crap to go down, but the verbal tit-for-tat was enough to get my heart racing.
As is often the case with films such as this, the premise is a man, who you think is out for revenge against the low-lifes (or, uh, high-lifes) who stole his pig. That’s the premise in a way, sure. But the real story is that Rob is battling grief and the pig came to represent a way of stabilizing him after his loss. And even then, he still turned cynical and nihilistic. Nothing mattered anymore up against that loss. Not the fame of being a chef. Not the adulation of customers and critics. None of it mattered.
That seems particularly poignant a message after having just seen a a story, also with a chef dealing with life in the Anthony Bourdain documentary I recently reviewed.
They didn’t merely steal, and as we later learn, kill by mishandling, a truffle pig. They took away that stabilizing force in Rob’s life. Yes, you can say, “What life is this, out there in the wilderness with no running water and friendships?” But it was Rob’s life. It was his “new meaning.” And it was working fine until that moment.
Despite his raggedy appearance, his bloody, bruised face from an underground fight club and I’m only assuming his awful smell from not showering, the level of respect Rob is given because of his past accolades more than 10 years ago shows the level of fame and respect he reached, and the extent to which none of it mattered in the wake of his loss and in the depth of his grief.
That message is profound. I’m always a sucker, as odd as it sounds, for a grief and loss story. And in the capable hands of Cage, Pig pulled it off extraordinarily well with a minimalist, bare-bones structure and plot.
Like I said, I just wish some scenes were better lit.
And the success of the film’s story and acting is no small feat. I think when a lot of people saw the trailer, they thought it seemed silly at first blush. Surely this is a joke? But within 10 minutes of seeing Cage in this film, you buy-in. You’re all in. Go see for yourself.