I don’t like bacon. It seems simple enough to prepare but the narrow sweet spot between overdone and undercooked escapes many. Countless diner orders ventured too far to one extreme or the other leaving the meal either a wet rubbery leather or a smoking plate of blackened shards. The same goes for a quirky post-arthouse film like Pig. The recipe is simple enough, a famous chef leaves behind his successful career after enduring a personal tragedy and turns to truffle hunting in Oregon with his faithful pig. He lives a content spartan life until his peaceful hermitage is violently ransacked and his pig stolen. The desperate chef (played by Nicholas Cage) sets about a quest leading him deep into the seedy underbelly of the restaurant world in search of his beloved porker. Much like bacon, Pig’s thin margin of success makes it a gamble. The slightest misstep could render the film absurd and miss out on its chance at sublime excellence. In the end, Pig proved too much like bacon for my tastes, somehow overdone and underdone at the same time. Spoilers ahead.
Nicholas Cage’s performance is uncharacteristically muted. His expressions are toned down swapping his trademark wide-eyed exuberance for a chance at subdued gravitas. His best scene is in a restaurant where he dresses down a popular chef who recognizes Rob (Cage’s character) from his past life as a culinary legend. Without raising his voice and with words barely punctuated with significance, Cage annihilates the restauranteur for cashing in on food trends instead of opening the eatery of his dreams. This is the first scene without a pig I enjoyed. Pig tests the fat with one vaguely emotional scene after another, relying on the weighted dialogue in lieu of emotionally expressive performances. Except Alex Wolff’s of course.
Unfortunately Pig does overdo its theme. Alex Wolff’s character Amir is an ambitious young man who’s making a good living supplying restaurants with locally sourced truffles at a lower price than his father who’s also his fiercest competitor. Amir’s fractured relationship with his dad doesn’t stem exclusively from their business rivalry. They’re split over how to care for Amir’s hospitalized mother. Frustrated by his son’s defiance, Amir’s father takes their schism to a new extreme by sabotaging his son’s career in the truffle business. He’s responsible for kidnapping Rob’s pig, Amir’s only truffle provider. This dramatic backstory informs Amir’s behavior as an entitled but self doubting jerkoff. Why develop such a detailed backstory for a supporting character? Because the movie isn’t really about a stolen pig or Amir’s slow maturation, it’s about dealing with loss. It’s about accepting death. Amir and his father must reforge their bonds and deal with their loved one’s inevitable passing together. The same goes for Rob who abandoned his sterling career and fled to the woods following his wife’s death. Turns out he’s not even really mourning his pig, who is absolutely dead by the way, because someone behind the scenes of Pig doesn’t trust it’s audience would believe a man could be pushed to hermitizing from the loss of a simple pet. Instead the pig must be the stand-in for the loss of a more significant loved one like a wife or child. This is the same bullshit they pulled in Zombieland when Tallahassee’s backstory about losing his beloved dog is revealed to be a thinly veiled cover story with the dog representing his dead son. Same in John Wick. That movie wasn’t about the dog like every trailer promised, the dog represents his inability to mourn his dead wife. I’m not going to spend too much time cataloging the innumerable parallels between Pig and John Wick because they should be obvious and I’m assuming someone else on the internet’s already done it but think of it this way. It seems to me someone at Neon wanted to remake John Wick but with less action and more emotional manipulation. Substitute dog for pig, legendary assassin for legendary chef, criminal underworld for restaurant business. It’s cut and paste after that.
Let’s talk about the Pig fight clubs. In John Wick, as John pursues vengeance we’re slowly introduced to the criminal underworld of his past. It’s full of assassins and kingpins, chop shops and gambling. The same thing happens with Rob in Pig except they can’t do any of the things John Wick did because that would be obvious plagiarism. Instead they suggest there’s an underground restaurant fight club where chefs bet on which busboy can take the longest beating. Rob has to enter the ring and take a beating early in the film in exchange for information leading to his pig. Look. I can believe a man would embark on a blood soaked quest to avenge his dog, believe me when I tell you this, but I cannot believe there’s an underground restaurant fight club in the literal under-city beneath Portland. Yes, this fight club is both literally and figuratively underground. Heavy, meet handed.
That scene really took me out of Pig. After that I couldn’t emotionally invest in anything left on screen. Amir’s mom’s dying? So what? I’m already spent from the mental jumping jacks required to pretend Portland chefs have grown so bored of heroine and pantry sex that the only remaining unspoiled taboo left to sate their deviant appetites is beating each other bloody. Rob’s finally mourning his wife? Doesn’t matter, 5 star chefs don’t make enough money serving five star meals to satisfy their occupational bloodlust. No, two combatants enter Kitchen Stadium, only one emerges the Iron Chef. À la bor-ing.
I didn’t like Pig but I hope people keep making odd movies in its vein for the same reason I keep ordering bacon despite its high probability of failure. I have faith someone out there can prepare it properly and I’ll keep buying lottery tickets at theaters and restaurants, enduring sub par movies and soggy BLTs because it only takes one bite of perfection to cleanse the palate.