When talking about Michael Sarnoski’s terrific debut film ‘Pig’, which makes its European Premiere at Edinburgh this year as the opening night gala screening, it is important to get something out of the way up front. This is categorically not the film social media has led you to believe it is. This is not ‘John Wick’ but with a pig. Neither is it ‘Taken’ but with a pig. Bacon, if you will. Ahem.
Yes, it is about a man whose pig is stolen from him, propelling him on a quest to get it back, but this is not some blood-soaked, skull smashing revenge thriller. It is so much more than that. ‘Pig’ is the first film I have watched in this year’s EIFF programme, and I will be shocked if I see anything better. Delighted, but shocked all the same.
Now if you want the absolute best experience of watching this film, stop reading now. I’m not going to spoil anything, but no matter how guarded I am with details, it is impossible to write about ‘Pig’ without revealing information that would be better discovered during your very first watch of the film. All you need to know is that it is brilliant, Nicolas Cage gives his best performance in years, and Michael Sarnoski has announced himself as a serious talent. Read on at your own discretion.
Nicolas Cage is Rob, a truffle hunter living in the wilds of Oregon. Completely isolated from the rest of the world, his only company comes in the form of his beloved truffle pig. His only human contact is a weekly visit from Amir (Alex Wolff), a food industry supplier who buys Rob’s truffles. Other than that, he appears to have fully retreated from modern life, with the suggestion being that this is a result of losing someone close to him.
When his pig is taken from him in a violent and harrowing sequence soundtracked by the piercing screams of the terrified animal, Rob is thrust back into the world as he embarks on a mission to bring her back. With Amir’s help, his odyssey leads him back into Portland, where he wanders battered and bloodied like a character from Greek myth into the arenas of his former life. The film effortlessly switches gears into a kind of detective movie, and this is where it gets really interesting.
We gradually learn that the world Rob left behind is the one of high-end cuisine, where he was an almost mythical figure. This is perhaps the one element of the film where you can legitimately compare it with ‘John Wick’. As Rob and Amir try and track down the pig, Sarnoski’s script, co-written with Vanessa Block, takes a fascinating swipe at the toxic underbelly of the hospitality industry, the ultra-hip Portland foodie scene, and the fiercely competitive supply chain that underpins it. Some of this seems very real and drawn from experience, whereas other sections go for a sort of heightened expressionism. It all works.
After years of taking roles to either pay his bills, or ones that cater to his worst excesses, Sarnoski has given Cage a role that reminds these young fools on twitter what us oldies have known all along: he is one of the great modern actors, with a range that is simply unmatched. His encounter with a former sous chef will go down as one of 2021s great scenes. However, Cage is not the only actor working at the top of his game in this film. Alex Wolff shows us again what an interesting performer he is, with his soulful and self-aware performance as Amir.
‘Pig’ is a richly detailed and melancholic film. An absorbing and freewheeling thriller (of sorts) it’s also a deeply thoughtful piece of work, meditating on the connections we make, and perhaps more pertinently, the ones we sever. The film also taps into the unfolding aftershocks of loss in a way I found incredibly moving. It asks us, who do we become when everything we love has been taken away from us? Even if that thing is a pig.
‘Pig’ screens at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 18th August and is in cinemas from Friday 20th August 2021 from Altitude Film Distribution.