Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: August 23
The idea of final cut is one that hasn’t existed in Hollywood since Michael Cimino quadrupled a shooting budget and almost crippled United Artists making Heaven’s Gate. It saw the end of director led features with studios picking up the bill and a move towards more business sound production models. The more money a director wanted, the less creative output they got. To truly make their vision, they had to cut corners.
For Michael Bay, a man who doesn’t get out of bed for anything less than a $100m kitty, a paltry $20m is his equivalent of Shane Carruth shooting Primer for $7,000. Yet in accepting it, he had carte blanche to make batshit bonkers passion piece Pain & Gain. And what it lacks in monetary boom, it certainly makes up with freedom. The freedom to make an indie about the American Dream where “squandering your potential is unpatriotic.” It’s still a Michael Bay indie, mind; it’s vulgar, crass and littered with explosions—just no Decepticons.
Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie play a trio of moronic, juicing bodybuilders who, tired with dead end jobs and empowered by infomercial motivational speakers, decide to grab the throat of the American Dream by kidnapping a self-made man (Shalhoub) and extorting his fortune through a brutal series of torture techniques.
The commitment shown by Pain & Gain‘s cast in the face of such insanity is usually reserved only for Joaquin Phoenix performance pieces; Wahlberg gives an extra steroid shot to his trademark knuckle head, Anthony Mackie deals with erectile dysfunction while dressed in a green man suit and Dwayne Johnson’s devout Christian snorts Mount Zion sized levels of cocaine. Shalhoub’s Kershaw is bound, gagged and beaten yet still manages to bring some foul mouthed humour to a human punchbag.
Bizarrely, Bay’s visual oeuvre is the perfect foil to tell such a fucked up tale—graphics constantly remind you you’re watching a true story. His excessive use of slow motion, 360 degree shots and over-saturation of everything—to the point they look as bleached as The Rock’s pearly whites—shines a scorching Miami sun spotlight on Lugo, Doyle and Doorbal’s grotesque behaviour and the ugly world they reside in.
It’s the morally ambiguous script where problems come in. What exactly are we expected to take from it; are we supposed to empathise with murderers because they’re portrayed as The Chuckle Brothers on protein shakes? It’s easy to get caught up in the shiny shitstorm Bay has created but its nihilistic celebration of pumped up macabre—from violence against women to extreme body mutilation—is a bit much to digest. Imagine a breezy, dramatised romp about Dublin’s Scissor Sisters and you’ve got the level of tack applied.
Ultimately, it’s probably not a question of whether Pain & Gain is a bad movie, it’s whether thinking Pain & Gain is good movie makes you a bad person.