Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: "Pain & Gain"

A movie might be based on real events, but the director doesn’t have to treat it what happened as gospel. A good example would be Tony Scott’s Domino, based on the real life Domino Harvey. The story is completely fictional (if you can follow it) but the filmmakers weren’t interested in telling a straight bio pic, opting instead to express her balls out personality through a fantastical tale. They didn’t get the truth of what happened, but rather the truth of her. And, for me, this is of most importance.

Now, a filmmaker doesn’t have to treat a person’s story as the final word, but a level of respect for the subjects involved doesn’t hurt. Unfortunately for the real life people behind Pain & Gain, Michael Bay is their storyteller.

The criminal acts of Daniel Lugo remind me of something straight out of a TV documentary; a bizarre and sordid series of events, featuring greedy sociopaths out for their dreams at all costs. Daniel was a con man, using charisma and quick thinking to gut people of as much money as he could get from them. Any opportunity to get a head, he took. He was also obsessed with fitness, working at a gym as a trainer. This guy, in a way, is the ultimate embodiment of American Capitalism. He gets two gym regulars to join him on a poorly thought out kidnapping of a wealthy man, which, despite their best “efforts”, actually nets them some coin. But, instead of stopping there, they get the itch to go again...

Throughout the movie, it’s made clear that what we are watching actually happened (a title scroll appears a few times, at very odd moments). However, I’m sure that some things were changed up to fit with the vision of the movie. But, I’m not really concerned with that. What got me most was the tone. The trailers billed this as if Daniel was gonna be some kind of anti hero, taking away from a guy that doesn’t deserve it. While the movie is mostly from the perspective of the criminals (occasionally shifting to narration from other characters), there really aren’t any reasons to like these guys at all. They are truly despicable people, caring only about themselves. To feature them as protagonists (and having well liked actors play them) is a pretty bold move.

And Michael Bay is a pretty bold guy. He presents the story with his usual blend of superficial humor - like what you would expect from Crank, but on a more juvenile level - which completely messed with the head of the audience. The crowd I watched this with did not know how to react. Do we laugh when they fail to kill a drunk Tony Shalhoub? Is "Ha Ha! The priest has the hots for The Rock!" an appropriate response in a movie where a couple is dismembered and stuffed into barrels? It was really fun experiencing something so conflicting.

So, with a movie based on real events, told with the criminals as the leads and in a darkly comedic style, does Michael Bay care about the victims or not? More importantly, should a filmmaker care? Martin Scorsese’s Casino featured a real life hitman, staging the very hit he did in real life. It was an almost abhorrent casting choice, but it plays out quickly and ugly - probably how it actually happened. Hannibal Lecter is shown as being intelligent and charismatic, but will also kill if given the chance. The exploits of Lugo and his meathead friends are awful and disturbing, but expressed with an almost “can you believe this happened” kind if chuckle. Bay couldn't care less about whose feelings he's hurting, as long as he's amused. And that amuses me.

A director doesn’t HAVE to care about the real life participants or show respect, but it would be nice. Michael Bay, however, is probably not a nice guy. Wrecking balls as robot testicles shows what he thinks of his audience, and Pain & Gain shows that he’s willing to prank them with something odd and confounding. And, you know what, I relate to that. Maybe I shouldn’t treat this movie as the gospel of Michael Bay, but...

4/5 *s


  1. Good review Bill. Very strange movie, but still fun because of the type of energy Bay throws into this material.

  2. Thanks! For once, Bay's style works to his advantage.


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