Pain & Gain (2013); Directed by Michael Bay

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I’m not, normally, a Michael Bay fan and I find his treatment of women despicable. So imagine my surprise when Pain & Gain blew me away.

Who knew?

It’s deeply ironic, and that is what I usually miss in Bay’s stuff. The script is wonderful, told through the point of view of multiple narrators (all of them unreliable). These guys are not good criminals. They are total boobs, in fact. Not one of them has a working brain in his noggin. All of them are susceptible to being swayed (each one of them is a broken man). The acting is great, across the board, and I loved Ed Harris’ small role as the retired detective, tracking down these guys, wearing a porkpie hat. It’s a fascinating story (I loved one moment, closing in on the end, when the scene freezes on a particularly grotesque moment, and the words: THIS IS STILL A TRUE STORY appear on the screen), and I didn’t know much about it going in. I assumed these three guys would be taken down, because how could they not be, but the film ends up being about the Dumbbell’s version of the American Dream, the moronic swallowing of every myth out there, thinking that you are owed a piece of the pie just because you are a “do-er”. Being a “do-er” is irrelevant: WHAT you “do” matters more than the mere act of “do-ing”, you idiot. But none of these guys got that memo. They swallowed the motivational speaker’s shallow version of the American Dream whole. The steroids don’t help. The film is funny, violent, smart, and great looking. It’s mean about women, it’s mean about fat people, it’s mean about gay sex, and that’s all part of the broken-ness of these three men. They are stupid shits, and the worst part is: They mean well. And do not even realize their own shallowness and broken-ness. Each one of the three lead actors is able to present that complex blend of brokenness and pumped-up power in a way that is quite vulnerable, because nobody comes off looking good here.

One of my favorite films of the year.

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5 Responses to Pain & Gain (2013); Directed by Michael Bay

  1. Jake Cole says:

    If you haven’t read it, I HIGHLY recommend checking out the Miami New Times stories from which the script was drawn. Each piece is massive, but so well-written and the events sometimes even stranger than the film, that I spent an hour or two one day just poring over the whole thing. First part is here: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/1999-12-23/news/pain-gain/

    I’m still not 100% sold on the film; I think some of the jokes it makes are how Bay really thinks than a comment on said beliefs, but I’m just transfixed by it, certainly in a way no Bay film has ever done for me before. The Rock is so utterly, totally funny in this (I LOVE him coked out, droning “Bad guys are everywhere” to a crowd of rich, gated-neighborhood folk who are almost too bewildered to be nervous). And Wahlberg plays the part he plays best, that of the overambitious lunkhead whose childishness comes out under pressure. But really, everyone’s good, from Mackie’s tag-along to Shaloub as the least pitiable victim ever, which I think is so great because movies always sanitize victims so you’re never allowed to think of any harm to them as anything but a travesty. Kershaw is the kind of person you’d love to punch right in the mouth, until you see what he goes through and start to feel for the guy. I’m also still in love with the gesture he makes when the Rock tries to convert him, at first tensing when one of those meaty hands lands on his shoulders, then slumping with outright irritation when he realizes he’s been preached to. I laughed as hard at that the second time as I did the first.

    • sheila says:

      Jake – oh my gosh, thank you so much for that link. I will take the time to read it in the next couple of days.

      I agree that Bay really thinks this way – you can see why he was drawn to make the film – but somehow, for me, the larger context of bodybuilders who were weak idiotic souls made that viewpoint FIT – as opposed to just getting the sense that Bay was getting off on keeping women in their place and protecting male cool-ness and privilege. Here, you could see that sort of inverted. A mirror image of itself. It was strange – I went into it thinking I would hate it (even though I love those three main guys).

      Shaloub was amazing!

      That whole scene with the “neighborhood watch” was hilarious – The Rock doing coke behind the easel, and being all awkward and dead-eyed and paranoid. Just insane.

  2. sheila says:

    Jake – read that entire newspaper series.

    Holy SHIT.

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