Director: Michael Bay
Reviewed: 17 October 2013
I love this film.
Maybe it was because I was sleep-deprived and watched it in three chunks between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. over two days holding my newborn son as The Rock and Marky Mark pounded out reps, dressed up as superheroes, and wrecked havoc all over the 1994-1995 Miami scene in this crime-fueled caper of gym rats turned kidnappers. Pain & Gain is based on a true story and directed by Michael Bay. Now, I carry some baggage to any Michael Bay film, and I have not enjoyed anything of his in a long time, maybe ever. His film The Rock was the first time that I openly started cringing at the thoughtless action summer blockbuster, and I openly recoiled at most of Armageddon a few years later. Raised on a diet of James Bond, Die Hard, and Indiana Jones, I think I expected more from an action film. Story, characters that mattered, a sense of cohesion. Bay's films, especially most recently Transformers seemed to embody a soulless, stylish evisceration of my childhood, an exercise in crass explosions and special effects, cheap humor and forgettable characters.
My view of Michael Bay has totally changed with his most recent film Pain & Gain.
His style meshes well with the R-rated hyperkinetic story of three bodybuilders who reach out for the American Dream by kidnapping a rich man named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and trying to steal his money and his life. The cast, led by Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo, consists of huge muscles and huge performances. These criminals are inspired by the Hollywood culture of easy crime, easy money, and it is fun to see how they spiral further and further into depravity and excess.
The film is completely surprising because of its charm, its form reflecting its content, Bay's confident and innovative camera movements and editing, usually distracting, but this time, it was remarkable and engaging. I just loved the camaraderie of the cast, with Rebel Wilson, Anthony Mackie, Rob Corddry, and Ed Harris all looking like they are having fun. lots of fun. He has indulgent moments and plenty of gratuitous violence and nudity and explosions, but here, Bay seems in on the joke, enjoying himself versus punishing the audience. I am not sure that I understood every plot twist and turn, and at one point, I was not following how the characters reached an important place, but I just loved the ride.
Everyone is an irredeemable scumbag in this movie, and everyone shares in the blame: the criminals, the victim, the police, the woman at Home Depot, and even the priest.
In a way, Pain & Gain is the counterpoint to The Great Gatsby, another deeply American story of envy, reinvention, and striving beyond one's limitations. Daniel Lugo sees an opportunity, and he takes it, albeit in the most ridiculous, twisted, and bizarre way possible. It seems awfully strange to compare Mark Wahlberg's buff, bug-eyed fitness and self-help devotee to Leonardo DiCaprio's suavely composed millionaire Jay Gatsby, but both films wrestle with similar themes and are two of the best films of 2013. After all, remember, Gatsby's 1906 copy of Hopalong Cassidy contained this moment of self-improvement and commitment to fitness: "Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling...6:15-6:30 A.M." Daniel Lugo would have needed to push Jay Gatsby because as this film shows, fifteen minutes of exercise just is not going to cut it.
Michael Bay, well-done. I cannot wait to watch this fun movie again.