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The synopsis makes it sound like an arthouse parody of John Wick – but Pig is also a serious and meditative film about our relation to food, grief and each other.

Brody Pig

Michael Sarnoski’s debut feature Pig is a difficult film to write about. It’s a strange film, always surprising without being twisty, and probably worth seeing without too much prior knowledge.

The synopsis makes it sound like a kind of arthouse parody of John Wick. In the forests of Oregon, Rob (Nicolas Cage), a former star chef, has been living as a reclusive truffle forager since the death of his wife. When his prize truffle pig is stolen, he returns to the world of Portland fine dining to track her down. There he encounters a sort of shadow realm on society’s fringes, ruled by powerful interests outside of sight, where he’s long since passed into legend.

But while Pig is not just a strange, artsy John Wick, with the dog swapped for a pig and the guns for food, it’s also not not that. It’s a serious and meditative film about our relation to food, to grief, and to each other, as well as a schlocky, slightly silly noir tale about a missing pig.

The idea of a legendary chef who is spoken of in hushed tones after 15 years, whose appearance on the scene can silence an underground restaurant worker fight club (really), and that a town can be ruled by mushroom salesmen; this stuff is pretty funny.

To treat this material with the gravity that Pig does takes guts. It also takes a fantastic performance from Nicolas Cage. The man most famous for onscreen freakouts is here quiet and contained, but ‘quiet and contained’ is not, it turns out, the same as ‘subtle’. Cage is gigantic. He broods, he rumbles, he eats pretentious contemporary cuisine with total contempt, he predicts the end of the world, and over and over again he demands, in the tone of a man exhausted by famous freakouts, “Where’s my pig?”

In taking a comic-seeming story and delivering it seriously, and in casting Cage and having him play quiet, Pig knows what it’s doing. It’s a sign of remarkable assurance on Sarnoski’s part that it never demonstrates this knowledge with a wink to the viewer, which would have trashed the whole edifice. Instead it uses its fanciful premise and Cage’s great performance to tell a heartfelt, even sentimental story — like the best noir films, which for all their cynicism, were always about a guy who cared.

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