Look I get it, with this sort of premise and the room's elephant which is Nicolas Cage in the lead role, your apprehension is truly justified but the joy of surprise surely is worth it in this particular case. What is the premise of Pig then? Cage stars as truffle harvester Rob who lives in a cabin in the middle of Oregon woods with his truffle pig, the pair collecting truffles that they sell to young food supplier Amir (Alex Wolff) who in turn distributes them to high-end restaurants in Portland. One ordinary night, pair of thieves attack the cabin and steal the pig and assault Rob. Waking up later, bloodied Rob starts tracking down the pig with the help of Amir as the journey takes them back into the city where you end up learning more about both of them, especially Rob who used to be known better by his full name, Robin Feld.
This is a feature film debut for director-writer Michael Sarnoski (sharing a story credit with Vanessa Block) and it's an impressive one, for sure, as you can easily imagine action movies motivated by revenge that most filmmakers would've done with this premise. That's so not what Sarnoski is interested in doing and we're all better because of it. Instead of giving audiences that fast food, focus is more on cooking the dish with patience where you're tasting a new ingredient with every new bite. Sarnoski's script defies expectations quite a few times actually since it often builds up to a moment where Rob could go haywire but then offers a different denouement. You're also rewarded constantly when another thing gets revealed about him or Amir's personality, there are especially two fantastic scenes that highlight this; one in a restaurant where Rob breaks the chef down verbally but with genuine care for him, and one where he and Amir cook for Amir's dad (Adam Arkin) to confront him. Dialogue is in fact so great in those instances that you'd actually wish that there was more because few moments get a bit awkward as they rely so much on Cage's reactions instead of balancing things out.
Those scenes obviously but also the whole film generally is a fascinating exercise for both Cage and Wolff to really battle masculinity, honesty and empathy as their characters, and both actors are very much up to the task. Many scenes offer a chance for them to go big but the challenge here is to draw back and then draw back slightly again which is why the performances end up being so captivating. On top of all this, there is also great sense of style in Sarnoski's choices and overall technical aspects. A nice touch to add to Amir's insecurity is his habit of listening to a podcast about how classical music is a superior art form, in his car that he might not even enjoy driving (reflecting how he's trying to manufacture a refined taste), colour schemes in the film are excellent thanks to wonderful grading of DOP Patrick Scola's photography and the pacing is really strong in every one of the three parts the movie is broken into (there are chapter cards specifically to indicate those, perhaps to resemble a three-course meal).
Smileys: Screenplay, Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, directing, colouring
Frowneys: Minor dialogue issues only
Maybe none of this was real.