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I’m late to this, mostly because of my inability to find the film showing at a cinema anywhere near me. But I’ve heard good things about it and eventually, I chase it down on the small screen. My expectations are that it will turn out to be a kind of ‘John Wick with a pig’ scenario, which isn’t a prospect I relish, but happily it is gentler and a bit more nuanced than that.

Disturbingly, though, days after the viewing, I’m still not entirely sure what it is.

Nicholas Cage plays ‘Rob,’ who ekes out a precarious existence in a tumbledown cabin in the middle of a forest in Oregon. He makes his living from harvesting truffles, along with his beloved er… pig (Brandy), who has a snout for that kind of thing. Rob is visited from time to time by young entrepreneur, Amir (Alex Wolff), who sells those foraged truffles in Portland, where they are prized by chefs at the fancier dining establishments. It’s an odd arrangement but it seems to work.

But things take a nasty turn when Rob is attacked one night and his pig stolen. So, with Amir as his driver, Rob sets out for the big city with only one thing on his mind: to get his pig back. It’s nothing to do with the truffle situation, though. Rob loves her and cannot envisage life without her.

As he and Amir travel through the city, it soon becomes clear that Rob has been here before. Once upon a time, it transpires, a near legendary chef and the very mention of his full name – Robin Feld – is enough to invoke awe in everyone who hears it. (It’s hard to imagine that the names of Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay could inspire such respect.) Along the way, Rob has some strange encounters. He volunteers to be beaten up in a private fight club (as you do), he cooks food for Amir and his ruthless father, and he makes it clear that he has nothing but contempt for his former career and for the customers who used to flock to him for his gastronomic delights.

Pig is an odd film, to say the very least. While it’s refreshing to see a Nicholas Cage project that doesn’t require him to chew the scenery, it’s also probably true to say that most of what’s going on here is in the subtext. Rob is a shambling, monosyllabic central character, covered with bruises and blood throughout the film – a scene where he books a table at a swanky restaurant and none of his fellow-diners raise so much as an eyebrow actually beggars belief – and he is single minded in his determination to get that pig back, come hell or high water.

Debut director/co-writer Michael Sarnoski’s fairy tale seems to be suggesting that greeting violence with love (and food) is the way to solve problems, and perhaps he’s right on that score, but ‘turning the other cheek’ is hardly a revelation, and it doesn’t seem enough to hang an entire movie on. While it’s also true to say that Pig never goes anywhere you expect it to, it feels somehow as though the stakes need upping a little.

Bacon sandwich, anyone?

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Six Minutes to Midnight


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Eddie Izzard is well known these days for running marathons, so it’s perhaps appropriate that she spends much of this film’s screen time sprinting headlong across the countryside with vengeful Nazis in hot pursuit. Six Minutes to Midnight is an old-school espionage potboiler, very much in the tradition of The 39 Steps, where stiff-upper-lipped Brits take on Hitler’s double agents in plucky and indomitable style. Co-written by Izzard, the tale is set in the exotic location of Bexhill-on-Sea and is loosely based around a true story.

Izzard stars as Thomas Miller, applying for the role of English teacher at a boarding school for German girls on the eve of the Second World War. The twenty girls in residence – who seem to spend much of their time working on their deportment – are presided over by headmistress, Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench), and by the sole other teacher, Ilse (Carla Juri), who seems thoroughly charming. Miss Rocholl is doubtful about Miller’s abilities, but she’s in an awkward position, as the former English teacher has recently gone missing under mysterious circumstances, so she agrees to a trial period.

It’s not long before Miller has his German pupils merrily singing It’s A Long Way to Tipperary, which is an unusual approach to English, to say the very least – and it comes as no great surprise to discover that Miller isn’t really an English teacher at all…

As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that hardly anybody here is quite who they appear to be. Is Charlie (Jim Broadbent) really a happy-go-lucky bus driver? Is Captain Drey (James D’Arcy) actually a British secret agent or something decidedly more sinister? And what is the significance of the film’s title?

To be fair, Six Minutes to Midnight makes a decent fist at generating a little mystery, but never really gets up a proper head of steam when it comes to the action sequences – and whenever the story stalls, it’s treated as a cue for Eddie to start running again. Poor Judi Dench has little to do but utter some of the lamest lines in history, as events spiral towards an underwhelming climax.

This is decent enough, but nowhere near as gripping as it needs to be.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Promising Young Woman


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Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is a remarkable debut, at once fresh, funny, terrifying and compelling. Starring Carey Mulligan, it tells the tale of Cassie, a med-school dropout with a mission. Cassie is thirty, but she still lives at home with her parents; she works part-time in a coffee shop and has no friends at all. Something calamitous happened back in her uni days, and Cassie wants revenge…

Except she doesn’t; not really. I keep reading that PYW is a ‘rape revenge movie,’ but Cassie doesn’t seem to want revenge at all. Instead, she confronts people with a metaphorical mirror, so that they can’t help but see how shitty their behaviour is. The ‘nice guys’ who approach her with dispiriting predictability when she pretends to be drunk and alone in nightclubs, offering to ‘help’ by getting her home; the girls who slut-shame their peers; the figures of authority who brush sexual attacks under the carpet – Cassie just wants them to acknowledge that they’re wrong. She wants to effect change.

This is a zippy, witty piece of writing, that often feels surprising, and Mulligan is on fine form here. She’s perfect for the role: one minute she’s all sweet vulnerability, the next a steely avenging angel. Writer/director Fennell makes important points about the way our whole society protects and enables those who perpetrate assault whilst punishing their victims, but the film never feels preachy or didactic; she has an admirable lightness of touch. The bubblegum shades and kitsch soundtrack give us hints of rom-com (the scene in the pharmacy, where Cassie and her new boyfriend, Ryan (Bo Burnham), dance to Paris Hilton’s Stars are Blind is a particular delight), but Fennell repeatedly pulls the rug out from under our feet and takes us to some unexpected places. The bold references to Charles Laughton’s classic Night of the Hunter, for example, work well to underscore the bleak reality the story unveils.

The violence, when it comes, is shocking in its understatement. There is no blood and gore here, but neither is there any let up – I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that what we witness is a deliberate, protracted act. It works though, and I applaud Fennell for eschewing the salacious prurience that often dominates such scenes (Paul Verhoeven’s Elle being a case in point, a movie spoiled for me by its focus on the very acts it claimed to rail against).

It’s easy to see why Promising Young Woman has made such a splash, and appears to be a real Oscar contender. If Fennell wins, it will be well-deserved.

4.7 stars

Susan Singfield