Review: Pig

A truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped

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Definitions of the word ‘pig’: any omnivorous hoofed broad-snouted bristly mammal of the family Suidae; a greedy, dirty, obstinate, sulky or annoying person; an unpleasant, awkward or difficult thing or task. Interestingly, the movie Pig could be considered as straddling all these definitions in its tale of ‘Rob’, a gruff loner living outside Portland, Oregon, truffle-hunting with his trusty pig and trading spoils with a cocky young upstart supplier to Portland’s high-end cuisine-scene. When the pig is stolen, he embarks on a mission of recovery at any cost. Like his beloved pet he forages through homes, diners, and upscale restaurants collecting ‘truffles’ of information, hoping to identify her captors and her whereabouts.

Co-writer and debut director Michael Sarnoski has curated a measured and meditative film here; one that perhaps in pitch meetings could have sounded like a revenge thriller à la John Wick, Taken or Falling Down, based upon premise alone, but thankfully proves to be anything but.  Nicolas Cage, as Rob, is quietly mesmerising. Dialling down the shouty drawl and the Kermit-armed histrionics for once, Rob is an embittered man of solemn dignity just keeping on. Beaten, battered and defeated he has, at some point in the past, stepped aside from the cut-throat world he once lived and worked in. It’s a beautifully understated performance on a par with Leaving Las Vegas, eschewing showboating for the studied calm of a forgotten man trying to reclaim what he loves. Cage’s onscreen sparring with Alex Wolff, playing the wet-behind-the-ears supplier, is generous and heart-warming as their frosty relationship begins to thaw naturalistically.

Sarnoski as director shoots meticulously, cleanly, especially in the woodland scenes, then adds textured sometimes blurred backgrounds to Rob’s reintroduction to the city, heightening his feelings of alienation. Through his co-writing of the story with Vanessa Block we really feel Rob’s reluctance to return to these soul-destroying, gastronomic shrines to capitalism; glimpses into the dark underbelly of which don’t always make narrative sense but do give weight to his disconnection. These odd diversions and some vague character interactions somehow create an unsettling and almost poetic, fairy tale-like quality. Perhaps one negative is that any female characters glimpsed in the film seem marginal. You could argue that women are the driving forces behind both main characters’ motivations, but it’s just that they’re not really present to balance the overwhelming maleness.

Highly recommended for the excellent central performances and a rather cute ginger porcine damsel, it may not be the film you were expecting but it is all the better for that! Whilst not eminently rewatchable, this melancholic study of the stages of grief may at times be jarring and angry but it’s not without moments of wry levity.

The film’s European premiere opened the 74th Edinburgh International Film Festival and is now on general release in the UK from Friday

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