By Richard Ades
Rob leads a quiet life in rural Oregon sharing a cabin and hunting for truffles with his foraging pig. Then, one night, someone breaks in and steals the pig. What will happen next is anybody’s guess.
That’s partly because Pig, the debut feature by Michael Sarnoski, stars Nicolas Cage as grizzled recluse Rob. Repeatedly spoofed by SNL for appearing in over-the-top flicks in which everything’s on fire and “all the dialogue is either whispered or screamed,” Cage has the reputation of being an explosion waiting to happen.
Sarnoski uses that image, along with the setup of a typical revenge film, to keep viewers in a state of anticipation. What will the hulking Rob do when faced with someone who stands between him and his beloved sow?
As it turns out, he never does quite what we expect him to do. Neither does the film as a whole, which may disappoint fans of the star’s more outrageous outings but should please those with subtler tastes.
The beginning scenes set up Rob’s key relationships. Settling down for the night after a day of truffle hunting, he starts to play a birthday greeting tape-recorded by his deceased lover, Laurie, but finds it too painful to hear. “I’m OK,” he insists when his concerned pig tries to comfort him.
But the most important relationship, as well as the most problematic, is between Rob and Amir (Alex Wolff), the Camaro-driving entrepreneur who drops by every Thursday to deliver those valuable truffles to high-class eateries in nearby Portland. Rob spurns Amir’s attempts to show concern for his well-being, but he brusquely demands the younger man’s help after his beloved pet is kidnapped. Together, they set off for the city, where Rob reveals unexpected knowledge of the restaurant scene and Amir reveals his prickly relationship with the industry’s ruthless kingpin, Darius (Adam Arkin).
Not everything in the script (co-written by Sarnoski and Vanessa Block) is logical or even believable. Particularly jarring—like a holdover from one of Cage’s tackier flicks—is a fight club of sorts that caters to disgruntled restaurant employees. More satisfying are the satirical barbs aimed at pretentious elements of West Coast culture. An enjoyable example is Rob’s interrogation of a chef (David Knell) who concocts trendy “deconstructed” fare but would rather be running his own English-style pub.
Through it all, Cage effectively plays against what’s become his type as the quietly resolute Rob, while Wolff keeps us equally off-balance with his portrayal of the hot-tempered but stubbornly loyal Amir. Their chemistry helps to sell a psychological study that builds slowly and imparts crucial life lessons along the way.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Pig (rated R) can be viewed at select theaters and will be available from VOD outlets beginning Aug. 3.