Credit: Neon
by Matt Lynch Film

Best Films of 2021: Pig

January 8, 2022

#10. You could be forgiven for suspecting that a movie starring Nicolas Cage as a reclusive, world-renowned chef searching for his kidnaped, beloved truffle-hunting pig through a nightmarish, pulpy Portland, Oregon restaurant scene would be a vaguely campy revenge picture, stuffed with cartoonish gunfights and ridiculous dialogue, the kind of thing that goes straight to streaming and winds up another throwaway in Cage’s ongoing meme-ification. Instead, first-time director Michael Sarnoski’s Pig is in fact a meditative, haunting, and heartbreaking tragedy. It subverts those cornball revenge movie expectations to become a rumination on the tangle and mystery of loss, a story about finding and holding on to some sort of meaning in a meaningless world. 

Though it’s not without its affectations. Pig’s depiction of a sort-of-gangster, underground culinary scene, complete with kidnappers, wait-staff fight clubs, and shadowy kingpins, would be right at home in the goofy John Wick version of this story, as would the brutal but not particularly graphic violence. But they’re all highlights to enhance the flavor of the main course, the sort of inscrutable details that, paired with the film’s funereal tone, make its made-up world seem that much richer and, for its protagonist, that much more of a place of emptiness and shallowness, a place that allows you to be beaten down, abandoned, unable to cope. 

And it’s possible that Cage has never been better. Even in beloved genre work of late like Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy or Sion Sono’s oppressively bonkers Prisoners of the Ghostland, the expectation (maybe even demand) of the story is that Cage go nuts, to enter his now-patented “mega-acting” mode, seemingly the only thing the audience appreciates about him anymore. But he’s always been supremely dedicated to his idiosyncratic craft. There’s a monologue near the end of this that, as written, is as Cage-y a piece of histrionics as one could ask for, but he delivers it — through his blood-soaked beard — in such subdued form that he seems to bring it up and out of himself from such an obviously true place of loss and pain. It demolishes every expectation of a modern-day Cage performance, and fixes Pig as one of the year’s most truly surprising and singular films.