Those who saw Nicolas Cage bloodied, bearded and grizzled in the first trailer for “Pig” might’ve made a lot of wrong assumptions about the film — like that at any moment, Cage would go nuts and mow down a room full of people in search of his prized, kidnapped truffle pig. Many online quickly jumped at comparing the trailer to action epics like “John Wick” or “Taken,” and we at TheWrap even dubbed the film a “revenge thriller.”
But as it turns out, Cage never really goes there; his performance is one of his most restrained and complex in years. And the film itself is far more meditative, thoughtful, profound and elegant than you may have expected.
In fact, as the film’s co-writer Vanessa Block told TheWrap, she hasn’t ever seen “John Wick,” and the Keanu Reeves movies certainly never came up as a reference point. She and director Michael Sarnoski even worked very closely with Neon in shaping the contents of the first trailer, which they felt was “pretty accurate” in capturing the beguiling, mythical tone of the film.
“What’s been surprising is that the moment that door gets kicked in, the assumption becomes ‘John Wick With a Pig,’ even though the clips that follow in the trailer are quite meditative, sensitive and gentle. It’s almost been this anthropological study on people’s relationships to films to see how they reacted,” Block told TheWrap. “I’m sure there’s a degree of wish fulfillment of people who watch the trailer wanting to see the ‘Cage Rage’ and being denied that. We were curious to see how people would respond to being denied, and somehow people being denied that has opened them up to something much deeper.”
Block said “Pig” was inspired by an image of a man in a remote home sitting on a porch with a shotgun as he protected his prized truffle pig and dog. And sure enough, Cage in the film plays Rob, a hermit who has abandoned society and lives as a truffle hunter along with his pet pig.
“We thought that image was so sad and sweet and endearing that that became the kernel for the film, which rapidly evolved into something much deeper — a story that’s really a mediation on loss and shared trauma,” Block said.
When a group of junkies surprise Rob and kidnap his pig, he goes on a quest into downtown Portland to find the animal. Along the way, the film reveals that he was once a renowned chef, and being away from the public eye has only heightened his legend. In his journey, he traverses a sort of underground world of Portland cuisine, encountering unusual fight clubs or would-be mob bosses who control the ins and outs of the city’s most rarefied restaurants.
Block and Sarnoski spent weeks scouting real Portland locations and developing a vision for “Pig” even before it had any financing secured, all with the intention of making the film a “love letter” to the city. They even shot inside Huber’s, one of Portland’s oldest restaurants dating back to the 19th century. So while “Pig” isn’t exactly “John Wick,” it does have some genre elements in making everything feel like a fable with mythical and magical qualities at each location.
“We wanted all of the characters that existed at each of those junctions to feel like gatekeepers to larger realms. There is a real fable-like magic to the journey, and having moments of ‘genre’ heightens and enables us to get that feeling across, and what becomes interesting is the subversion as we move through it,” Block explained. “This fable, mythical quality of the film can only work tonally because we marry that to something very grounded in the realness of the place of Portland.”
Of course, if anyone was still assuming “Pig” was some gonzo action flick like “John Wick,” it’s probably due to having Cage in the lead role. Block said the actor became attached very early on in the process and often referred to “Pig” as a “tone poem” or “haiku.” And rather than molding the character of Rob to Cage, he “seamlessly” blended in with Block and Sarnoski’s vision and helped them subvert expectations in exactly the right way.
“With how we used genre to give a heightened, magical sense to the movie, Nic encapsulates that so beautifully. It’s a very introspective, sober, quiet performance,” Block said. “To have an actor like Nic who exists at this level of mythic proportions gives it the electricity it needs to really flourish.”
Neon’s “Pig” is in theaters now.