Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pain & Gain, a review

Its the 90s in Miami Florida, replete with gangsta rap, small swimsuits, sweat and stupidity.

Daniel Lugo, Paul Doyle and Adrian Doorbal are after what everyone else has: the American Dream. And, in according style and with perpetual flair, these three knucklehead bodybuilders will squat their way to achieving nothing less. Even if they have to bench, beat and kill anyone to do it. Pain & Gain. 

NARRATIVE

From the beginning, this is very unlike Michael Bay. He assembles an all-star cast with The Rock, Mark Walhberg and Anthony Mackie taking up the 'roided reins of the three extortionists. Fundamentally, the characters are the centerpiece (more or less a first here) and they excel. Each character gives their own point of view via voice over, and this works surprisingly well, giving us glimpses into the individual characters while the corporate absurdities pile up.

Walhberg delivers a comedic performance of epic proportions, saturated in delusion and Nike. After flagging and forced performances in the Other Guys and Broken City, Mark offers a 'roiled, soulless and singularly demented performance as Daniel Lugo.

Anthony Mackie as Adrian Doorbal is on giddy turf here, playing both foil and lightweight partner to the murderous Daniel. He is far more restrained than Daniel, but is far more prone to hysterics. Mackie carries this, switching from con man to pissed off husband to infatuated muscle man instantly, with hilarious results.

The Rock deserves his own category here. A born-again Christian who is sober, Paul Doyle easily roped into the schemes of Daniel. The Rock gives him a vulnerability and a child-like naivete, like he's a teenager with some semblance of a moral compass. Except when he's sniffing coke off some stripper's butt. He steals the show, easily.

The pacing of the film is a bit lacking, with several lulls in the middle act slowing things down considerably. Easily 20 to 30 minutes could've been exercised from the film. The writing is surprisingly strong, and this goes to confirm what I've been saying about Bay for years:

You give him a good script, and he will do wonders with it.

TECHNICAL

As mentioned, though the editing is whiplash (though most shots last longer than a few seconds, contra Greengrass and Bay's middle years) the aforementioned mid-section is flabby and a bit lackluster.

However, the cinematography is stroller, utilizing Bay's technique of heavy shadows, high-contrast color difference and continual dolly shots. He also breaks a bit from his usual slow-motion to give us handheld (gasp) and even some long shots. This works well because Bay keeps his focus on his characters. The film has a commercial feel but I think the film itself is in on the joke.

The sound design is about average, but there are sequences where voices are clearly dubbed. A tad distracting. For being such a low budget film, the quality is more or less astounding. Film students could've easily done this.

THEMES

This is where the film shines and darkens. Pain & Gain presents us with three more or less unlikable characters who steal, torture and ultimately kill to get a slice of the American pie. Michael Bay plays this up significantly by showcasing the foolish displays of fabulous wealth as each man wastes it. A fairly typical example of greed leading to destruction.

Consequently, I think this is a startling morality tale and a deeply emblematic satire.

It focuses on the American dream of excess and never stops. Male gym members are ripped to the point of being chunks of rock, and female gym members are disproportionate barbies desperately in need of 1950s skirts and clothing. But this works. Bay's usual style is to shove this in the faces of teenage boys simply for shock value.

Here, it is marketing. It is perverse. It is reality. Be all you can be, be more than you can be, be more than everyone else. Some may object to this, saying Bay is just up to his usual hijinks (and you could be right) but as the American dream itself is based on this, the most you could say is that Bay just made a documentary. Which is scary in of itself.

The film reminds me of a better Natural Born Killers, mixed with The Big Lebowski and Savages. It has humor darker than Tarantino, writing stronger than Stone and violence about as shocking as the Coen brothers.

CONCLUSION

The film is raw, excessive, politically incorrect, reprehensible and ultimately caves in on itself; the redeeming aspect is that it knows and embraces it and just shrugs. This is the way of the world, the way of the United States gone wrong.

At once hilarious and horrific, Pain & Gain is simply the best Michael Bay film to date and may be one of my favorite films of the year.

4.5 out of 5.

--Nick

2 comments:

  1. Like most Bay films, it does run too long for its own good and deflates a bit in the third act, but it kept me entertained for the most part. Good review Nick.

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