I thought I knew what to expect out of a Nicolas Cage revenge thriller about a disgruntled chef’s John Wick-style fight to recover his stolen truffle pig. Even now, I can picture exactly what that movie should look & feel like from start to end. Pig is not that film. It defies all expectations of its over-the-top genre premise & Cage’s late-career casting in its violence, performances, purpose, and tone. Just about the last thing I expected was that I would be struggling to see the screen for the final third of its runtime because crying into my mask was fogging up my glasses. It’s not any showier in its emotional beats than it is in its revenge-genre payoffs, but it still choked me up in ways I’m finding difficult to articulate. It’s a quietly powerful, surprisingly thoughtful film about Nic Cage’s stolen truffle pig.
Nicolas Cage makes dozens of movies every year—most of which are rightfully ignored straight-to-VOD action thrillers—but there are only two kinds that typically get any wider attention: muted actor-showcase dramas like Joe and mindfuck genre-flicks like Mandy. Pig can’t comfortably be sorted into either of those categories, since it continually flirts with being both. Cage plays his unwashed Oregonian wildman with a quiet dignity & deeply felt sense of hurt – both for loss of his pig and for a greater loss suffered in his mysterious past as a big-city hipster chef in Portland. His journey to recover the pig is an exaggerated, absurd caricature of the Portland culinary scene, though, complete with underground BOH fight clubs & violent mafioso food distributors. It’s an understated execution of a preposterous premise, refusing to behave either as a sober return-to-form showcase for the often-mocked actor or as fodder for his infinite supply of so-bad-its-good YouTube highlight reels. It’s its own uniquely beautiful, tenderly macho thing, with more to say about culinary arts than the peculiar flavors of Nic Cage’s screen presence.
Like in the high-fashion revenge Western The Dressmaker, the violence & cruelty suffered by our battered antihero in Pig is not avenged with more violence & cruelty; it is avenged with art. Nic Cage ends the film caked in blood, as he does in Mandy, but his weapon of choice in seeking revenge are his skills as a chef. His carefully-worded criticism of another chef’s menu choices or his own perfectly balanced, deliberately unpretentious cooking are delivered as skull-crushing blows to his enemies, undercutting the typical hyperviolence of the genre with food-culture commentary. Pig covers a lot of ground in its food-scene philosophizing, from the cutthroat competition of food trucks to the self-aggrandized pageantry of fine dining. I specifically got choked up by its focus on the ways passionate, authentic food preparation can trigger powerful sensory memories in us, an emotional effect deployed here like the detonation of a well-placed bomb. I started to sorely miss sharing luxuriant meals with people I care about, an experience that’s been in short supply over the past 17 months, and one I never expected to be weaponized in Nic Cage’s pig-themed John Wick knockoff.
Nic Cage is my favorite working actor. I know that bias makes me sound like an irony-poisoned hipster, but I genuinely find his choices in roles & performance ticks to be thrilling in a way few better-respected actors allow themselves to indugle. Even so, I admire how Pig breaks through the expectations and boundaries typical to the modern Nic Cage Film. At the very least, it’s his best work since Mandy, which Swampflix highlighted as our collective favorite film of the 2010s. It’s especially worth seeing for anyone who’s ever worked a BOH position in a commercial kitchen, since its draw as restaurant-culture commentary often overpowers Cage’s consciously muted performance. There’s a chance it’s both too restrained and too absurd to earn its place in the Nic Cage Hall of Fame, but it deserves that kind of recognition.