In The Middle
Altitude Film Entertainment UK 2021
Directed by Michael Sarnoski
There have been a lot of great movies at the tail end of the current ‘phase’ of the coronavirus pandemic... as everyone is trying to pretend we are more or less out of it and I suppose it makes sense that there is a backlog of good movies at the moment. I’m glad these things are getting released before the government is forced into a corner by the plague again, at least.
Pig, a new film by Michael Sarnoski is no exception. It’s a truly beautiful and moving film which reminds us just how good ‘quiet cinema’ can be, in an age of superhero blockbusters and roaring rampages of revenge. I’d have to say that Pig, happily, falls into neither category and, in terms of the second one, I was quite surprised by that. And also surprised by the fact that this movie is so good it doesn’t matter.
The film is split up into three chapters: Part One - Rustic Mushroom Tart, Part Two - Mum’s French Toast & Deconstructed Scallops and Part Three - A Bird, A Bottle & A Salted Baguette. They actually do, now I come to think of it, have some meaning in terms of the content of the chapters but they’re really more of a distraction and just used as a kind of rest break punctuation to give the audience time for pause.
Pig stars Nicolas Cage as a man who exchanges truffles found by him and his constant companion, the pig of the title, for basic food etc. The young man who transacts these deals with him is Amir, played by Alex Wolff. The basic plot... and this is really all I am going to reveal about the story content because you are not going to want spoilers... is that Cage’s best and only friend, the pig, is stolen by thugs one night and so he makes the trek from his cabin in the woods of Oregon to the nearest village (in a moment reminiscent perhaps of Stallone’s entrance in the small town at the start of First Blood) and finds Amir, who takes him into the city on the trail of the pig. And on the way, bonds are formed, character’s backgrounds are revealed and the movie really doesn’t follow through in the ways you’d expect. This is not a formulaic movie of any kind and, perhaps because of this, it makes for a very satisfying experience.
Cage and Wolff, playing two unlikely companions who begin by having practically no bond of respect between them at first (although I think Amir obviously cares enough about Cage’ character to go the extra mile for him, from his viewpoint), absolutely knock it out of the park in this one. Both of them really bring home the bacon, so to speak, in terms of their performances and you certainly couldn’t accuse either of them of hamming it up (okay, my apologies but I had to get that out of my system).
I knew I was in good hands from the director and cinematographer right from the start. There’s a wonderful shot from inside the main protagonist’s cabin with the open door looking out into the wilderness (a bit like that famous shot in The Searchers, I guess). The pig goes out to greet it’s owner as Cage walks into the view of the opening of the doorway and the two are framed, along with the title of the film, in that thin wedge taking up about a fifth of the centre of the frame. It’s a beautiful composition but I was even more impressed by the next shot. It’s a simple view of a river with the largest area of it at the bottom of the frame and then coming in diagonally from those two corners and tapering into the centre, with forest either side of it. A simple shot for sure but I was impressed because the placement of the river moving into the centre of the frame is exactly where the eyes would have been focused on from the previous shot, inhabiting where the door frame was. This is absolutely what directors and editors should be doing with a widescreen frame, to stop popping people out of the experience and it’s just the right way to compose for a film in a rectangular ratio. A beautiful transition point.
A similar shot looking out from an open doorway in the centre of the frame crops up at least twice more in the movie that I clocked and it’s almost a visual theme for the way the story is viewed. Once, when Cage’s character goes to visit his old house and he sits in the doorway talking to a child and then, much more prominently, later in the film where a diagonal composition of people based on height... of Cage, Wolff and another character played by Adam Arkin... is shown within a centre slab of an open door. It’s a great moment and it seems right, due to the emotional gravitas of the scene (which I won’t spoil for you here), that the director revisits this kind of frame design.
And that’s me done with Pig. It’s an absolutely wonderful movie and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone who enjoys the art of the cinema. It’s an absolutely captivating piece and a reminder of just how good the medium can be as a platform for great art. It’s also not as predictable as you think it might be and takes its time to get where it’s going (even though an hour or more was cut from the original assembly, before it reached its final cut). Don’t miss out on this one.