Watching “Pig” is like being served a dish you didn’t order. “I’m sorry, I asked for a goofy Nicolas Cage revenge thriller? I think the low-key drama about grief and loss is meant for a different table.”
It takes a few bites of writer-director Matthew Sarnoski’s debut for the strange, sublime flavors to make you forget whatever you thought you wanted.
“Pig,” now showing at Point Cinema, catches the viewer off-guard, structured like a “John Wick”-style thriller in which a mysterious loner comes to town looking to reclaim what’s his. In this case, the loner is Cage as Rob, a former chef turned reclusive truffle hunter. And he’s looking to reclaim his pig.
Rob and the pig live alone in a rundown shack deep in the Oregon woods, and wordless early scenes sketch an unlikely but undeniable bond between the two. It helps that, with its golden hair and black snout, the pig looks about as much like a loyal golden retriever as a pig can.
Together, Rob and the pig hunt for truffles in the forest, exchanging them for goods with a flashy broker named Amir (Alex Wolff) who sells the valuable, aromatic fungus to high-end restaurants in Portland. One night, somebody breaks into Rob’s cabin, beats him up and steals the pig.
Devastated, Rob enlists Amir to drive him to Portland and help him find his only friend. Sarnoski presents the Portland restaurant scene as a sort of seedy underworld, where waiters battle in subterranean fight clubs after the restaurants close, and shadowy forces make sure that the city’s top chefs get the high-end ingredients they need by any means necessary.
What’s fascinating about “Pig” is that it both lives in this heightened, high-concept world and stays utterly grounded in the emotions of Rob’s hunt. Cage shambles about the city in blood-stained rags, looking for his porcine companion. With each new person he meets, the audience gets another piece of the puzzle of Rob’s past, a top chef who packed his knives and left town after some unspecified tragedy.
Cage is known for giving operatic, over-the-top performances, mostly in movies that don’t deserve them. He downshifts effectively here, doing more with a grunt and a pained look than he would with a wild-eyed speech in another movie.
The moody imagery makes Portland’s restaurant scene look deliciously forbidding, and the screenplay by Sarnoski and Vanessa Block pays close attention to every element. Random details, like Amir trying to learn to appreciate classical music, have a thematic weight to them.
In the end, there’s an undercurrent of sorrow running throughout “Pig,” the sense that what we lose we can never get back again — and, in the end, we’ll lose everything. Better to stop and savor the ephemeral pleasures along the way, whether it’s a song, a good meal, or a very odd and memorable movie.