“John Wick with a Pig” is how Pig, starring Nicolas Cage, is often described. Fair enough, even if that only really works as a shorthand if you’ve got a big bag of “buts” handy.
Admittedly, the plot is strangely similiar – loner loses favourite animal and goes on a payback jag. But though Cage and Keanu Reeves are both boomers from 1964, the similarities end there – Cage is a “big” actor embracing the extra texture that age brings, Reeves is more minimalist and doing his best to ignore it.
Either way, this is a vastly entertaining odd-couple comedy served straight. And that’s another thing – this is a buddy movie, whereas the various John Wick slaughterfests even in their most collaborative moments never really are.
Once the truffle-hunting porker has been stolen in the night, out in the Oregon woods where he’s been living a hermit’s existence for 15 years, Rob (Cage) is forced into an uneasy alliance with Amir (Alex Wolff), the city-slick middle man he’s been selling his truffles (the best!) to for years.
Amir wears a suit, he drives a yellow sports car, his hair is slicked back and he listens to improving talks on classical music while going about his business. Rob looks like a hobo at the best of times, and looks even worse once he’s been beaten up as part of the robbery.
Off they head together, into the business end of the movie, a shambling, shouting Rob and his slim, nervous driver, into the rarefied restaurant scene in Portland, where foams and smokes help justify the huge price tag on dishes served up in exclusive restaurants.
Who stole the pig? As with John Wick’s dog, it barely matters. Why Rob doesn’t at any point get a shower, put on cleaner clothes or at least scrape some of that dried blood off his face is a more pertinent question (and once it turns out that Rob is familiar with Portland’s underground fight scene, there’s even more blood that needs scraping off).
It’s a film in three parts, with their own chapter titles – Rustic Mushroom Tart, Mom’s French Toast and Deconstructed Scallops and A Bird and Bottle, & a Salted Baguette (take up the Oxford comma with director/writer Michael Sarnoski), yet it still comes as a surprise that this toxic avenger who we first meet chewing a mouthful of forest soil was once a chef so legendary that people quail at the mention of his name (see John Wick, perhaps as played by Gordon Ramsay).
At a philosophical level, if it grabs you that way, the film can be seen as a meditation on the fleeting nature of “your moment”, with Rob delivering lessons on how to let go (dis)gracefully. The film’s best scene takes place in Portland’s most exquisite fine-dining establishment, where the curl-lipped Rob delivers gobbets of hard-won wisdom to a chef (brilliantly nervous David Knell) he fired years before for always overcooking the pasta, both on how to live your life and how to approach food. Gratefully about sums it up.
Shot dark as you like – a generation of DPs have now grown up using digital and have fully embraced its ability to catch detail way down in the mix – as it winds into its final chapter and the animal kidnapper is revealed in Bond villain style, it looks as if Pig is going to climax as a medley of 007 and cult foodie film Babette’s Feast – no, Mr Bond, I expect you to diet!
There’s not much actual food eaten in Pig and yet it somehow manages to be a great foodie film nonetheless, celebrating the simple joy of eating and the more complex pleasure of eating really well, while at the same time pointing out that restaurants are a terrible bear pit of snobbery, oneupmanship, emperor’s new clothes-ism and straightforward old-fashioned faddery.
As for the star’s performance, which seems to have got one of those critical circle jerks going, as happens every few years (last time was 2013’s Joe), it’s not a particularly good Cage performance, but it is a typically good one, replete with “mega-acting” tics. As humblebraggy thespians say when accepting gongs, “It’s not the performance, darling, but the role.” This is a great role for Nicolas Cage. Poor Alex Wolff, entirely admirable and enjoyable throughout as his unwilling buddy, has trouble cutting through.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021