Joe, a mild mannered young man is bored by his life. When his beloved brother is murdered Joe finds solace in Piggy, one of his brother’s old friends. As their friendship grows, Joe finds himself in an increasingly dangerous and murky world of violence and revenge. When Joe’s life collapses around him, he starts to question who Piggy really is, and how honest he’s really been with him. When Joe confronts Piggy a series of events are put in place that lead to a disastrous climax.
Director/Writer Kieron Hawkes makes his directorial debut with Piggy, and if not for the “Been There, Done That” nature of his script he’d have himself one of the most striking debut films I’ve ever seen. Mild mannered Joe (Martin Compston) does his best to stay under the radar and live his lonely life with as little complications as possible. His quiet existence consists of him waking up, going to work and coming home. He doesn’t have any friends to speak with and he keeps to himself at work as well. But when his brother, John (Neil Maskell), stops by to pay a short visit, Joe slowly begins to creep out of his self imposed darkness and into the sunlight. That is until John is senselessly murdered by a street thug after a short verbal confrontation in a local pub. Shortly after the funeral, Joe gets a visit from a man calling himself “Piggy” (Paul Anderson). Piggy claims to be an old friend of John’s and explains that he wants to help Joe get revenge on the thugs that murdered him. Together, the duo set out to hunt down the 5 individuals that murdered John and find out which one of them was the one who wielded the knife that was plunged into John’s belly. But does Piggy have an ulterior motive for helping Joe?
Piggy explores themes like loneliness, grief, revenge, violence & love in an extremely believable way. It’s very true to its roots, which can be found in films like Sexy Beast (2000) and Harry Brown (2008) and it does an admirable job of maintaining the pedigree of those British revenge films & others. Like those films, it uses the violence inherent to the genre to ask its audience questions about what revenge, murder & grief might mean to them. And have no doubt, Piggy is indeed quite violent, but somehow it never goes over the top with its depiction of violence. Of course we see people get stabbed & stomped but director Hawkes makes a concerted effort to focus on the aftermath of the violence and not so much what it looks like save for the most violent scene in the film. In that scene, Joe & Piggy have one of the thugs tied up and after asking him a few questions, Piggy commences to stomp on the thug’s head with his boot. And stomp he does, Piggy stomps on the poor guy’s face so much that I had to rewind the film to keep count (23 times!). The beauty of the sequence is that it sells the violence using sound effects, not pulpy gore. When the scene is over, a cloth is draped over the thug’s head and it’s then that we realize that Piggy has literally stomped his head flat. The image of the body lying there on the floor, with a cloth covering the spot where the head should be is one that I won’t soon forget. It’s that chilling.
While all of the performances in Piggy are well modulated and believable, it’s two central performances are wonders to behold and most definitely award worthy. As Joe, Compston has a hang dog quality that doesn’t quite fit his look, and that makes it so much more effective. He’s not a bad looking guy at all and I could easily see him playing a far more boisterous version of the role. But that role belongs to Maskell as Joe’s brother John and although he’s only in the film for about 10 minutes, he makes the most of those minutes and he gives the audience a look at both sides of his character, the loving side that will do anything for his brother and the violent side that’ll do the same. I wish Maskell was in the movie a bit longer because he’s so dynamic in the role. But his performance isn’t the other central performance here, that role belongs to Anderson as Piggy – and Anderson pretty much steals the movie. Initially, Piggy is a compassionate and caring soul that only wants to help Joe get through his grief, but slowly he becomes an avenging angel that offers no mercy to those he smites. And he takes a sincere pleasure in stomping, slicing & stabbing those whom he feels deserves it. There’s a gleeful subtleness to his tone & mannerisms that’s extremely effective and as the film goes forward and his madness slowly rises to the surface, he gets scarier & scarier to Joe but Joe’s at a loss as to what to do next. Piggy has infiltrated and taken over Joe’s life and if Joe wants him to stop he’s gonna have to take some drastic action.
My biggest problem with the film is it’s script which is something I’ve seen before & I’m sure most of you have as well. As a matter of fact, I had Piggy figured out 15 minutes after it started and when I found out I was right, I was so disappointed. In attempting to make Piggy stand out from the crowd, Hawkes makes it even more familiar and it completely fails to surprise. It has echoes of far better films like Fight Club (1999), Death Wish (1974) and A Clockwork Orange (1971) but it comes nowhere near the power those films have and it’s almost comical in its insistence to ape them. This is what’s killing me because I really liked the film overall. Additionally, James Friend does an incredible job with the cinematography here, making London look bright, cheery, dour & dreary all at the same time. All involved have done an incredible job on a budget of under $1,000,000 and are to be commended for it.
It’s safe to say that I really liked Piggy an awful lot. I’d like nothing more than to say I loved it, but that damned script and its insistence on repeating familiar themes really bothered me. But as it currently stands I can still say that Piggy is one of the most intriguing films I’ve seen this year with some truly incredible performances waiting for those who choose to give it a watch. It’s a brutal & unforgiving look at life, death & revenge that will disturb you, despite the fact that many of you have seen it before. I’m truly anxious to see what Mr. Hawkes does with his next film. He’s a true talent.
Piggy – 3.5 out of 5 shrouds.