Shielded by a rat’s-nest beard and layers of decaying clothing, Rob (Nicolas Cage) lives in a rudimentary cabin in the Oregon wilderness with his beloved pig. Together, they forage for truffles that Robin barters for necessities when Amir (an indispensable Alex Wolff) makes his weekly visit. The truffles are bound for high-end Portland restaurants; when the pig is stolen, her owner will be compelled to follow the fungi.
“Pig,” Michael Sarnoski’s stunningly controlled first feature, is a mournful fable of loss and withdrawal, art and ambition. Told in three chapters and a string of beautifully delineated scenes, the movie flirts with several genres — revenge drama, culinary satire — while committing to none. Instead, Sarnoski takes us on an enigmatic journey as Robin searches for his pet and revisits a life he long-ago abandoned.
Pit stops at an underground fight club for restaurant workers, and at a favorite baker for a prized salted baguette, are both moving and strange, leaving us with more questions than answers. Once, Rob had stature in this world; now, in the words of Amir’s powerful father, Darius (Adam Arkin), he no longer even exists. Yet he and Darius are the same: twin disconsolates, imprisoned by heartbreak. And while “Pig” can at times feel engulfed by its own sullenness, there’s a rigor to the filmmaking and a surreal beauty to Pat Scola’s images that seal our investment in Robin’s fate.
Cage is superb here, giving Robin a subdued implacability and a voice that initially croaks from disuse and later swells with quiet conviction. When Robin delivers a speech about the madness of choosing profit over dreams, it lands with the full weight of an actor who seems to know whereof he speaks.
Rated R for an extended beat down. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.
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