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Pig examines the effects of loss 

Co-writer Michael Sarnoski directs this dramatic thriller about Rob (Nicholas Cage), a truffle hunter living a solitary existence in the Oregon wilderness, whose beloved foraging pig is kidnapped, forcing him to return to his past in Portland in search for her. (92 min.)

Glen I think it's pretty common when someone experiences a profound sense of loss to reevaluate one's priorities. Things you might have thought were important suddenly seem trivial. Pig is an elegiac, multilayered rumination on loss and what it does to people. Rob lives a hermit-like existence. His only connection to the outside world is Amir (Alex Wolff), a young man who supplies some of Portland's upscale restaurants with truffles—the pungent, hard to find underground fungus, certain varieties of which sell for as much as $1,500 per pound. He arrives every Thursday to Rob's remote forest cabin to trade him essentials such as batteries, flour, and other cooking supplies. One evening after Amir's most recent visit, two people—Bree (Julia Brey) and Scratch (Elijah Ungvary)—break into Rob's cabin, assault him, and steal his pig. What follows is a mystery story as Rob, with Amir's help, works to find who stole his pig. It brings Rob back into the scene he left, including the dark underbelly of the restaurant world. As the tale unfolds, we discover more about Rob's past in this foodie world, the loss that drove him out of the scene and into his solitary existence, and most importantly, what kind of a man he is and the lengths to which he'll go to recover his pig.

Anna What also unfolds is a deeper look into who Rob is and who he was in the Portland food scene. While he may at first be unrecognizable, once people in the business know who they're dealing with, they're in awe. One scene that was particularly compelling is when Amir gets them a table at a very pretentious, upscale restaurant. When served two deconstructed scallops under a dome of smoke and over a huckleberry foam, he asks to speak to the chef (David Knell), who it turns out actually worked for Rob for a very brief period way back when. One thing Rob has in spades is memory—he recalls to the shaken chef his long forgotten dream of owning a real English pub, subtly yet piercingly leading chef Finway to question everything that has led him to where he is now and the food he's offering. Knell is fantastic in this small but meaty role, and his performance of maddened frenzy is laudable. There are a lot of really great characters and actors who fill their roles well. Brey and Ungvary are wonderful with their brief time on-screen as loser meth-heads looking for a fix, and Adam Arkin as Darius—Amir's estranged father—turns out a gripping performance as well. Rob seems like the kind of guy who could be a loose cannon and react with violence, but we soon learn that vengeance is not his goal—he just wants his friend back.

Glen That is a standout scene, and by then it's clear that Rob, though menacing, isn't a violent person. He uses his emotional intelligence to force those he meets to confront their own choices. He does it with Amir, chef Finway, and Amir's father, Darius, another high-end food supplier. The performances are universally excellent, including Cage's, who—let's face it—isn't especially discerning in the roles he chooses. Dangle a paycheck, and he's there. I mean, consider this: The three years before the pandemic hit, he did six movies a year, most of which were utter trash. Pig, on the other hand, is deeply heartfelt—a small, well-crafted, heartbreaker of a film. It really sneaks up on you. In the beginning, Rob comes off as a dick—his relationship with Amir is wholly transactional, and he's uninterested in any real connection. We learn, however, that Rob is in self-preservation mode. He has no interest in the trivial. Amir thinks of Rob as a homeless loser, but as they enter the Portland scene and Amir witnesses the deferential treatment Rob receives, he realizes he's underestimated him. By the end of the film, my deep affection and respect for Rob made his loss my loss. This one will stick with me.

Anna Cage really owned this role. His Rob is someone living every day with his past tragedy, and the loss of his companion pig is just another blow to an already broken man. We get a glimpse of his past loss when early on in the film he puts a cassette labeled "For Robin" in his player and we hear a woman's voice come on, but he switches it off before we get past a few sentences. It's far from a happy-go-lucky film, and it seems that Rob's pain may be never-ending, but it's a compelling story and a perfect Palm Theatre movie—art house-y and quiet, beautiful and nuanced. Our screening was pretty empty, so this one may not be on the radar for many yet, but it's definitely worth watching in the darkness of a movie theater. Hopefully Cage will get offered more films like this. He did a fantastic job, and this is a really great reminder that despite some questionable choices with the roles he accepts, the man is a wholly talented actor and has more to give after decades in the business. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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