Deep in the Oregonian woods, a man lives with his pig. He is a recluse with a past; she is a Kunekune with a gorgeous ginger coat. Together they hunt truffles, which are all the rage down in Portland. In recent years, Portland has become America’s culinary heart, and local ingredients are king. Every chef in town talks up the locavore game, making the truffles Rob (Nicolas Cage) and his pig unearth all the more valuable and the industry all the more cutthroat.
The Portland setting of Pig, written and directed by Michael Sarnoski, is not by happenstance. At one point in the movie, Rob confronts the chef of a fine dining establishment. He asks for the story — every restaurant has a story. Chef Finway (David Knell) recites for the umpteenth time in his life: The restaurant specializes in local ingredients deconstructed. The words are right, but the tune is wrong, and Rob knows.
“Do you enjoy cooking this food?” Rob asks.
Finway flounders: Yes, the restaurant is a success. The critics love it. The people rave about it. The wait to get in is a month long. It sounds good, but Finway lacks conviction. Rob is a chef, one of the best Portland ever saw. Years ago he hired Finway. And years ago he fired Finway. He knows who Finway is, even if Finway forgot. Back in the day, Finway dreamed of opening an English pub. But pubs are no longer in. “It’s a terrible investment,” Finway says. He’s trying to convince Rob he’s made the right choice. He has yet to convince himself.
This exchange comes midway through Pig, and it’s my favorite of the movie. It might be my favorite scene of the year. I couldn’t help but think that if Finway were a real person existing in the real world 40 years ago, he would have joined forces with Mike and Brian McMenamin, the brothers behind one of the most successful chains of English-style pubs this side of the Mississippi. They’re the inspiration behind the Mountain Sun sister pubs of Colorado. Ask Kevin Daly about it sometime.
But Finway is right. As lovely as those English pubs are, they’re passé these days. It’s those highfalutin restaurants with modernist takes on small plates that are all the rage. Finway is a man out of step with his time. So is Rob. What happens when the thing you care about most is something the world doesn’t give a damn about?
Why Rob gives Finway a heart-to-heart is the story of Pig. The plot is as direct: One night, someone breaks into Rob’s cabin, beans him with a pipe and abducts the truffle-hunting pig. Rob wakes, and without pausing to wipe the crusted blood from his face, heads off to Portland looking for her with the help of his truffle broker, Amir (Alex Wolff), a trust fund kid with D’Artagnan facial hair, a flashy car and a growing interest in classical music.
Pig is flat-out fantastic. Despite Rob’s grizzled appearance — cleaning himself up is not high on his to-do list — it is not a revenge flick. All of the violence, what little there is, is handled through edits and sound effects. It’s the threat of what Cage can do that winds Pig tight. When it comes to unhinged performers, Cage’s spot is secure at the top, and you spend most of the film waiting for him to unload. When that moment finally comes, there’s nothing routine about it. All those years in the woods have grown a Buddha in Rob. And all those off-the-wall performances have grown Cage’s allure. Together they make Pig something worth caring about.