Among the giant Douglas-fir trees in an Oregon forest, a large, scruffy man and his bristly pig hunt for truffles. Communicating through a series of whistles, snuffles and squeaks, the pig (played by Brandy) unearths the black gold which the man gently scrapes around and caresses as he lifts it out, sampling the aroma that drives the restaurateurs of Portland wild.
The man, we later discover, is Robin (Nicolas Cage), once a revered chef whose brilliance in the kitchen changed the way Portland thought about dining out. There is a hint of this early on when Robin, in his humble cabin, prepares a meal of foraged mushrooms for dinner, flaking butter into flour and using an angel’s touch to knead it into a dough and roll it out into a rustic mushroom tart. It’s oddly idyllic, a gourmet living off the grid who has supplies dropped off each week in return for the truffles he sells.
Being Nicolas Cage, the idyll doesn’t last for long. During the night a band of violent thieves break in and leave Robin bloodied on the floor while they steal Pig. When he wakes up, he rings the only contact he has, a shallow city type in a Lamborghini, Amir (Alex Wolff), who takes Robin back to the big smoke. We know he’s been gone a while because when he asks for Marj at a local store, they say she has been dead for 10 years.
This is a mostly quiet film about a man who was destroyed by a never-detailed tragedy involving his wife, Laura, although the presence of Cage – whose penchant for over-the-top histrionics took his career towards the money and away from earlier interesting work in movies like Wild at Heart and Red Rock West – remains unnerving. When he says, “I want my pig back”, it could mean anything but the odds are on a bloodbath.
Once back in town, Robin is still remembered with awe. Through his interactions with Portland foodies, observations are made that are just this side of cliché about the pretension of modern food compared with the accomplished honesty of dishes that celebrate ingredients. When Rob cooks dinner for an old foe – they are connected through loss but it is never explained – we watch him halve pigeons, sniff thyme and whip up perfect sauteed pigeon with foraged mushrooms and huckleberries. And, yes, Cage had a real chef from a Portland restaurant on hand to coach him through the steps.
Pig may not be as important as it wants to be in its observations about what’s important in life but it is beautifully filmed, particularly in the way it captures shafts of light streaming through to the forest floor. Its restraint in all things, but particularly in the performance of its lead actor, gives it at times an elegiac feel, and holds out promise that Cage may be returning to real movie-making.
Pig opens in on September 16 and will be fast-tracked to digital.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.