Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Review: Pain & Gain

Year: 2013
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris

Synopsis is here:

Based loosely on an even more insane true story, Pain & Gain finds Michael Bay at the height of his excesses. The film is homophobic, xenophobic and sleazy in all the ways we expect a Bay film to be. Yet as the film isn't aiming dubious messages at the world’s youth (see Transformers), the blow is softened somewhat. The nastiness of the story the film is based on is in fact perfect for a director like Bay who revels in the delinquency of it all. The film is full of discrepancies (composite characters, altered facts) but it doesn't seem to matter. In his own cartoony way, Bay has crafted a film that at its highest points satirises the desperation that infects some who chase the elusive American Dream. It’s Scarface by the way of The 3 Stooges.

Bay mines all the techniques that make many hate him, but his excessiveness only seems to aid the film. The forever roaming camera captures these exasperated characters in heavily saturated colours. The extreme close ups capture every ounce of sweat drenched anxiety that befouls these despicable creatures. The canted angles and hectic cross cutting only seem to serve the skewed views of these criminals.  Even the multiple voice over narration from nearly every character in the film, plays into the mania of it all. Like soulless vultures; the various voices (full of juxtaposition as opposed to what we’re seeing) highlight the hollowness of these people.

It’s easy to hate Pain & Gain because it captures the vapid nature of its characters acutely. Delving head first into the griminess of its story, the characters talk in infomercial platitudes. They take work out breaks when the grisly shit hits the fan. Bay throws this amped up aggression right in our faces and doesn't let, but I never found myself aligning myself with the characters. I felt there was more than enough distance for me to pity their ignorance and laugh at them then with them.

The films humour is often hit and miss, yet when the lurid nature of the piece hits the right spot, there is an amusement about it that will tickle a few. Bay still really needs to reign in his bizarre issues with homosexuals (there was no elements of this in the actual story), while his attitudes to race and females are still as crude as ever. However, I must maintain that some of this works towards the characters we are observing. To sanitize the nastiness of this story would be a disservice. Fact is, as grim as the tone of this movie may be; it’s still not as nasty as what actually happened.  That Bay manages to mine something “enjoyable” out of this, says more about me than anything, but there’s something in the blackness of it all that entertained me. I've said it before; you gotta laugh, or else you’ll cry.

Pain & Gain looks to attack the worse aspects of American materialism in plain sight. From the garish colours, and over indulgent direction (although Bay has eased up on his editing), to the arrogant, dunderhead performances (Johnson’s relapsed, meatheaded addict is a highlight) of the main cast. Everything plays into the sordid mentality of culture that’s able to cultivate sociopaths and all of this is wrapped within a high octane package that only Bay could deliver. I have to admit that after the 447 minutes of robot smashing that Bay gave us, Pain & Gain seems much more toned down and focused in its action. Again, nothing hits the peaks of some his earlier works, however compared to the fallen revenges of the dark of the moon, everything is little bit more engaging. I guess one of the reasons is that Bay isn't shilling this to adolescents.