Producers: Nicolas Cage, Steve Tisch, David Carrico, Adam Paulsen, Dori Roth, Joseph Restaino, Dimitra Tsingou, Thomas Benski, Ben Giladi and Vanessa Block   Director: Michael Sarnoski   Screenplay: Michael Sarnoski   Cast: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin, Cassandra Violet, Darius Pierce, David Knell, Nina Belforte, Gretchen Corbett, Tom Walton, Dalene Young, Julia Bray and Elijah Ungvary   Distributor: Neon

Grade: B+

Though Nicolas Cage has generally surrendered himself to his manic propensities in the movies he’s made over the last couple of decades—mostly B pictures at best—and occasionally to amusing effect, he periodically takes on something that requires him to tone things down and show that he’s still capable of subtlety.  David Gordon Green’s 2013 “Joe” was one such case; Michael Sarnoski’s debut feature is another. 

At first it seems that “Pig” might be one of Cage’s over-the-top flicks, and one with a satirical edge.  He plays a hobo-like guy with unkempt Jesus hair, a scruffy beard and a raggedy wardrobe living in a ramshackle cabin deep In the Oregon forest.  He’s a truffle hunter whose sole companion is the foraging pig that helps him locate the pricey fungi. 

As anyone who’s seen the recent documentary by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw will know, the bond that develops between such hunters and their animals is a strong one, so when some men break in one night and steal the pig, Rob’s furious.  You know he’s going after the villains, and expect that the movie is going to turn into something akin to a Liam Neeson action picture, with the brooding solemnity of a father’s search for his kidnapped daughter replaced by the bloody wackiness of a wild-eyed Cage’s pursuit of the thieves of his porcine roommate.

But that’s misdirection.  “Pig” instead becomes a moody, melancholy, and oddly touching character study in which Rob quietly but determinedly enlists Amir (Alex Wolff), the ambitious young Portland guy who drives to his cabin every Thursday in his flashy yellow car to buy Rob’s box of truffles for sale to the city’s upscale restaurateurs, to drive him to the city to recover the critter.

Thus begins the first of three chapters—titled “Rustic Mountain Tart”—into which “Pig” is divided (the other two will be called “Mom’s French Toast and Deconstructed Scallops” and  “A Bird, a Bottle & a Salted Baguette”).   The quest will take the unlikely duo to a truffle hunter named Mac (Gretchen Corbett), a scruffy couple (Julia Bray and Elijah Ungvary) who provide a clue about the kidnappers, an underground Portland fight club run by a surly fellow named Edgar (Darius Pierce), and a posh restaurant, where Rob interrogates the head chef (David Knell) about his supply sources. 

Eventually the trail leads to the palatial home of Amir’s father Darius (Adam Arkin), a smoothly sinister dealer in rare foods.  There revelations about Rob’s past and the whereabouts of his beloved animal that have been accumulating over the course of the journey will reach a culmination, and in a final sequence the voice of an unseen woman named Lara (Cassandra Violet) provides a period to the disclosure of the secrets behind Rob’s escape to the wild.

Throughout Sarnoski’s touch, previously confined to work in short films and television, is remarkably assured; together with cinematographer Pat Scola and editor Brett W. Bachman, he maintains a mood of quiet, somber tension and suspense.  In this Cage is a great asset, giving (a couple of explosive moments apart) a subdued, hushed turn that meticulously captures Rob’s reserve and sadness.  Wolff, who’s building an impressive résumé of character turns, makes a convincingly conflicted partner for him, reflecting Amir’s growing amazement as the details of Rob’s past emerge, while Arkin brings silken intensity to a character who’s not as immune to emotion as he wants people to think. 

The rest of the cast is fine, with Knell in particular standing out as a man who, under probing, must confess to compromising on his dreams, and the production design by Tyler Robinson and score by Alexis Gapsas and Phillip Klein contribute unobtrusively to the atmosphere of a film that initially seems merely strange but proves by the close to be strangely affecting.