Fewer actors have as an erratic a filmography as a latter day Nicolas Cage who regularly sprinkles cinematic gems into a disappointingly high amount of direct-to-demand schlock. Pig which plays at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival falls into the former category with poignant direction and a raw leading turn from the dynamic actor ensuring this is a feature that touches some sensitive emotions within its audience.
Pig from writer-director Michael Sarnoski sees Cage star as Rob, an Oregon truffle hunter who lives alone with his foraging pig. After the kidnapping of his beloved pig, Rob seeks the assistance of buyer Amir (Alex Wolff) to help him retrieve his companion. This journey takes him into the heart of Portland where he comes into contact with numerous figures and some troubling memories from his past.
Michael Sarnoski and DoP Patrick Scola capture an earthy mysticism in the rural Oregon setting, exploring the tranquil, idyllic existence that Rob shares with his pig. Elegant shots of the pair exploring the woods and hunting for truffles sit alongside shots of Cage delicately creating a pastry for a pie, with slowed down sprinkles of flour gliding onto the pig. It’s a gorgeous opening that assets our on-screen pig (off-screen known as Brandy) as one of the most adorable cinematic farm animals. This quaint rural opening soon transcends into a nightmare, soundtracked to the noise of the pig squealing and Rob knocked unconscious as his compadre is stolen from him.
Sarnoski moves the action to the big city of Portland, with its built-up sleek architecture and artificial lighting, appearing crass in comparison to the picturesque nature of Rob’s previous woodland surroundings. Cage’s Rob is long-haired, bruised and bloodied as he traces figures from his past that may have involvement in the crime – the epitome of a fish out of water as he cruises through the city in a shining yellow sportscar. Cage excels in this man of few words role and as our protagonist is put in situations from crafting culinary masterpieces to taking part in an underground bare-knuckle fighting circuit, it’s clear that the lead in Pig could only have been played by Cage.
The narrative of Pig keeps its cards close to its chest. Gradually unveiling details of the mysterious protagonist with a drip-feed effect as he ventures into increasingly surreal circumstances, Pig presents a man pushed closer to the edge. Yet this is a film of understated tone and Cage keeps an impressive handle on his performance. With little dialogue, every word uttered has an impact whether it be progressing the narrative or simply delivering deadpan humour (the sight of a bloodied, grizzled Cage sitting in a high end restaurant is a bizarre yet perfectly fitting touch). Pig delves into an impressive level of emotional depth in its final moments without verging on melodramatic narrative notes.
Shot with a light colour palette and delicately scored by Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein, Pig is a quietly entrancing watch. Just as the man of the woods styled Rob shows a finesse and elegance in the kitchen, Pig mirrors this in its tone, performances, and stylistics.