I have here a movie called Pig, a suspense thriller in which the stringy-haired protagonist stares into space and says, “Who has my pig?” Did you guess that Nicolas Cage would play this part? Then you know your movies, or maybe you just looked at the photo accompanying this review. By virtue of his financial problems, his temperament, and his talent, Cage has carved out a career that, for all its complement of crap, is completely unlike any other actor’s. (Try imagining anyone else starring in Mandy.) This film here is another A-level exercise in weirdness, of which “Who has my pig?” only scratches the surface.
The movie is divided into three chapters, entitled “Rustic Mushroom Tart,” “Mom’s French Toast and Deconstructed Scallops,” and “A Bird, a Bottle, & a Salted Baguette.” Cage portrays Robin Feld, a loner who lives in a shack deep in the Oregon woods with a nameless sow, his partner in foraging for truffles. His only human contact is Amir (Alex Wolff), the truffle buyer who drives by his property every Thursday in his snazzy yellow Chevy Camaro. One night, a group of tweakers kick in Rob’s door, hit him in the face with a baseball bat, and pig-nap his companion amid a lot of squealing. Without his own transport, Rob strong-arms Amir into taking him into Portland in that Camaro to find his beloved swine.
After The Truffle Hunters, I never imagined I’d be reviewing two films about truffle foragers in the same calendar year. The premise of this film sounds like the setup for a wacky comedy, and I’ll admit that some evil part of me wanted the film to end with the line, “Shut up and eat your pork chops.” Director/co-writer Michael Sarnoski doesn’t go there, but he treats Portland’s food scene like it’s the Mafia. It even has an underground fight club made up of the city’s restaurant workers, which appalls Amir as much as it does me. The script has a nice pop at the pretensions of molecular-gastronomy foodies, and the center of the corruption is none other than Amir’s dad (Adam Arkin), with whom he’s not on speaking terms. The straight-faced use of film noir tropes in an unlikely setting recalls Rian Johnson’s Brick, and if this movie isn’t as brilliant as that, well, what is?
Despite all this, the film’s tone is surprisingly sad and even elegiac, as Rob, Amir, and his dad are all haunted by the deaths of people close to them. This opens up the movie to some lovely lyrical performances, as Arkin (whom we haven’t seen much of since his Chicago Hope days) projects enough menace to stand up to the star. Wolff plays a city slicker wholly different from the teen stoner he portrayed in Hereditary and does remarkable work in an early speech about a fabulous restaurant meal that stopped his parents from fighting for a whole evening. (Those Jumanji films don’t do this actor justice.) If you’re looking for a Mandy-style freakout from Cage, you’ll have to go elsewhere, because he matches Sarnoski’s filmmaking approach and underplays to pleasing effect, especially in a scene where he reduces a former protégé (David Knell) to a pile of goo while sitting in the man’s packed restaurant.
The climactic scene has Rob fix a braised quail dinner for the mob kingpin and his son, and it functions like the titular dish in Ratatouille, an object lesson in how food can move us in unexpected ways. Pig ends up as less a revenge thriller and more of a food film, and in addition to being among the best of such films, it is definitely the strangest and most strangely moving one you’re likely to see.
Starring Nicolas Cage and Alex Wolff. Directed by Michael Sarnoski. Written by Vanessa Block and Michael Sarnoski. Rated R.