p a i n & g a i n
30th August 2013
Wahlberg / Rock / Mackie
18th August 2013
Many filmmakers retain the ability to surprise us, it’s one of the great reasons for heading to the cinema. Michael Bay is not one of those filmmakers. If you want slow motion, orange tinted cinematography, explosions and gratuitous everything, he’s your man. If you want an intimate character-driven story with surreal twists... well, probably best look elsewhere. In short, you know what you’re getting with Bay. And it usually involves a shot from low on the floor in front of a character that then rotates slowly around him (always a him) as the light glints off whichever weapon he’s carrying. Rinse and repeat.
Pain & Gain does a lot of that but it can’t be called a typical Michael Bay film. At least, I think it can’t. The plot, taken from a true story tells of three bodybuilders who took the American Dream by the horns and decided that their version involved kidnapping, extortion and ultimately murder. For once, I took the liberty of looking up the true aspect of this film and unsurprisingly, the film only bears a passing resemblance to real life. The bookends are roughly true (although the gang was much bigger) and what happens in between has some moments of near truth but on the whole, it’s probably best to discount the true story badge. The bodybuilders kidnap a self-made man, torture him, extort all his wealth from him and when they spectacularly fail to kill him, the police think his story to be so ridiculous that they don’t believe it, preferring to shrug it off as a gang related issue. A private eye takes on his case and as the gang gets more greedy, the police finally take interest.
So what we end up with can be read in one of two ways (and I suspect will garner it wildly differing reviews). It is either a scything satire, using a true story as a jumping off point to investigate the American Dream or a sleazy exercise in gratuitous nonsense that exploits real people to get cheap laughs from sometimes horrific violence. I’m going to give Bay the benefit of the doubt on this and go with the former though this may be entirely to justify how much fun I had watching the carnage.
The three main criminals are portrayed as monumentally stupid. All are obsessed with their bodies to the exclusion of almost anything else and their ultimate lack of redemption comes as no surprise. The film veers between gallows humour, Bay’s usual shining bodies and some truly horrific violence. Some parts are toned down, for example the imprisonment and torture of main victim, self made man Victor Kershaw, is never particularly horrific (they extort most of his property from him by whizzing him around on a drying line) but the destruction of his life is very obvious and we never once side with the bodybuilders even when we are laughing.
Which I think brings me to the real reason I’m willing to give this film a go. On the one hand, it seemingly trivializes a violent lifestyle, glorifying it with shining women, gorgeous properties and effortless violence, all in stylish slow motion. On the other I didn’t once find myself thinking that I wanted the three idiots and their variously complicit acquaintances (none of them really have any friends) to get away with what they are doing. I found myself reveling in their stupidity and gleefully awaiting their inevitable demise.
But is Bay really presenting the gang and Wahlberg’s character in particular as a savage indictment of the take what you can nature of the American Dream where anybody can rise to the top? Is he telling us that generations of greed have led to a redefining of that pinnacle as just piles of cash gained through the shortest possible method? Or does he just find the idea of somebody grilling severed hands on a barbecue outside a warehouse in full view of any passers-by just too funny for words?
I can’t answer those questions but I think Pain & Gain’s ultimate redemption is that when the great film historian finally throws all of Bay’s movies into the bin marked ‘Explosive Nonsense’, they will be forced to pause and reconsider this one. I’ve spent a week thinking about how to review this movie. That’s a week thinking about a Michael Bay film. Funny old world, eh?
Check out the trailer here.