REVIEW: Pig (2021)

Nicolas Cage as Robin Feld with his titular companion in PIG — Photo: David Reamer / NEON.

Directed by Michael Sarnoski — Screenplay by Michael Sarnoski.

The beloved Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage has had a strange career. The unpredictable cult-favorite thespian has, for quite some time, reshaped his career and, to some, perhaps diluted his filmography by starring in several direct-to-video B-films. Whenever he returns to a major project, it feels special and like something to treasure. Thankfully, Pig is the kind of film that feels like a return to form for Cage, whose latest performance is arguably one of his very best.

Michael Sarnoski’s Pig follows Robin Feld (played by Nicolas Cage) a former high-end chef who has now become a recluse. He now lives on his own with his truffle pig in the woods of Oregon. However, his life is upended when someone suddenly breaks in, knocks him out cold, and steals his beloved animal companion. Desperate and lonely, Feld now must team up with Amir (played by Alex Wolff), a young man that he regularly sells truffles to, in an attempt to locate and save the titular character.

It is a film that I think is probably best experienced cold without much prior knowledge, so feel free to read the rest of the review after you see the film. The film, on the surface, feels a little bit like an independent film version of John Wick, but this film has different ambitions than most revenge films. This is a nuanced, quiet, meditative, and subtle film in a genre that is everything but that. This is actually a thoughtful subversion of everything that makes John Wick tick.

I think this is an excellent film, but the one thing that feels ‘undercooked,’ if I may, or out of place here is the short sequence that reveals this strange underground fighting ring. It’s not exactly clear what is going on, and it feels like a remnant from a different film. It is the single scene that I don’t feel great about in this otherwise extraordinary big-screen debut for Sarnoski.

The one thing that elevates this film from being just a ‘pretty good indie drama’ to being one of the best films of the year is the central performance. Nicolas Cage is just phenomenal in this film. His is such a nuanced performance that doesn’t ever really have any of the freakouts you’d perhaps expect from Nicolas Cage in this stage of his career. This film, and his performance, is nothing like this year’s Willy’s Wonderland (also starring Nicolas Cage), which I thought was so difficult to watch. This is also so far removed from his performance in Mandy, which isn’t a bad film but which plays on his more recent over-the-top screen-persona.

Cage’s character thinks before he speaks, remembers interactions and details, and knows how to cut to the core of what matters, which is love and passion. The show-stopping scene between Cage’s character and a former employee of his is just one of the best scenes of the year. His character’s bond with his titular companion just hits you where it matters, and I also think that Alex Wolff deserves a lot of credit for his excellent supporting performance in a film that mostly rests on his and Cage’s shoulders.

Michael Sarnoski’s Pig is one of, if not, the best directorial debut of 2021. It is a surprisingly thoughtful and meditative drama. Sarnoski’s debut is a deconstruction of the expected revenge-film genre that highlights the familiarity of such films before Sarnoski’s film flips the genre on its head to deliver a tender, deliberately paced, and soft-spoken film that is more about existentialism than getting justice. Perhaps the best way to sum up my feelings about this film is to use the popular and surprisingly fitting slang term, chef’s kiss. My compliments to the chef.

9 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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