Paul Dano's first appearance into the film comes as a mysterious truck pulls upside the one containing the titular super pig in order to transport it into the company's big event to celebrate their super pig success. Paul Dano is one of the passengers of the mysterious truck wearing a black mask, which when watching the film for the first time I wasn't sure what to make of this interloper, as for many a film Paul Dano has been a resident creep of cinema whether it be in There Will Be Blood, Twelve Years a Slave, or Prisoners. The question was whether or not this would be some less than pleasant fellow also trying to use the pig for his own nefarious purposes, one wouldn't put that past a Paul Dano character. The moment where any such concerns are completely erased though is perhaps my favorite in the film, which is where the pig is unleashed in an underground mall where the corporate men, the little girl Mija who own the Pig, and Dano's group all attempt to retrieve the pig for themselves. The Pig gets a essentially a plastic thorn in Okja foot to which Paul Dano's Jay takes out and reveals himself. I love how Dano portrays the scene in the sheer empathy in his face as he goes about his task revealing such an intensity within his concern for the injured pig reveals the true nature of his character all in this single silent moment.
Dano through this film then plays wildly against what had become his established type, and proves himself quite capable in a far friendlier sort of character. Dano goes further than that though in that he is basically the one truly comforting character within the whole film, as even the other members of his group called the Animal Liberation Front, aka the ALF, are just a little loopy in one way or another. Dano offers a consistency within his portrayal of Jay's concern for Mija, and her pig throughout in a way that is actually rather moving. There is only the most genuine warmth that Dano brings in every moment as he attempts to defend not only the two of them, but also try to rid of her of any harm of any kind. My favorite moment in his performance probably is at the grand pig show by the corporation that the ALF sabotages by, harmlessly, attacking and playing footage of the corporations actual brutal treatment of the pigs, and Jay takes the stage in order to prevent Mija from seeing Okja's mistreatment. Dano so effectively projects such an overwhelming sense of compassion in the moment showing that Jay only ever cares for her absolute welfare. Dano throughout the conclusion of the film is terrific in just always so powerfully emphasizing Jay's concern in every interaction that always exudes this uncompromising empathy that defines Jay.
That is not to say that Dano has no variations within the film, though what he already brings with his overwhelming main facet that defines the character would be enough for me to call this a more than successful performance. Dano though makes the most out of the few moments where Jay's personal philosophy essentially is questioned just a bit. The first instance of this being when he learns that one of his fellow members willfully mistranslated Mija's words. Dano's great in this moment as he dispenses a most unusual beat down on the man. Dano's delivery of this scene is fascinating as he so eloquently realizes the style of Jay's peaceful philosophy even when it relates to violence. Dano inflicts the moment as though the intensity of the attack isn't defined by hatred, but rather a sheer disappointment in his compatriot. Dano makes it even lightly comical in this way though only by making it feel so true to the nature of Jay. The other moment though where this is tested though is in his final scene of helping Mija retrieve her pig from the slaughter house and from the nasty CEO of the corporation (Tilda Swinton). Dano already is great in the scene by bringing a real visceral intensity and change within Jay's empathy by finding a certain degree of desperation as he tries to help Mija. He excels though as he's being taken away by the security and tells the CEO he is considering breaking his rule of loving all the creatures of the earth for her specifically. Dano's fantastic in this moment as he portrays it as though Jay is trying to eek out a bit of genuine anger towards her but even this he shows as a struggle for it is just against the man's very being. This is terrific work by Paul Dano as he offers such a needed bit of heart to the film, and this yet another proof that he continues to be one of the most interesting actors of his age group.