Pain and Gain

Michael Bay is a name in cinema circles synonymous with the death of narrative cinema and our slow slide into corporate-sponsored multiplex mediocrity. His early work; police comedy Bad Boys and fun Die Hard rip-off the Rock showed a middle-of-the-road action director, but his preachy tedious rubbish from then on, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour and the Island indicated that anything with his name on it was to be avoided. The less said about the ongoing Transformers debacle and Bay’s ill-fated Platinum Dunes production company whose stated goal seems to be to ruin great eighties horror films. His new film divided opinion before it came out, and has split the critics and the public upon release (yes, I know America, you got it at the start of the summer, we’ve had to wait).

Pain and Gain, claimed to be a more art-house film compared to Bay’s usual fare. With a smaller budget, more intense character actors in Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie and Ed Harris and a less action-heavy premise on one hand promised to be a new side of Bay’s direction. But the claim that it would be a black comedy, which Bay has more than proved he has a tin ear for was worrying. ‘Based on a true story’ of early nineties Miami, where idiotic ‘roided-up bodybuilders came up with an ingenious plan to kidnap, extort and kill local businessmen; and steal themselves the American dream.

The final product has inspired a lot of loathing from the critical faculty, and quite a bit of chin stroking and people reversing their positions on Michael Bay, which I imagine was the intention. For my own; there were a few laughs, it’s too long and Michael Bay’s style-free and shambolic direction is fought against by the amazing story and the brilliantly loathsome performances from the cast.

Surprisingly closely based on the by-turns shocking and unbelievable true story; a more ambitious director would have taken the premise into riskier and more intelligent territory, perhaps conflating the narcissism masquerading as American ambition masquerading as health consciousness into a more damning tale of human wretchedness in urban Florida, which appears to have swiped from under Las Vegas the title of ‘epicentre of all human evil’. As it is, the film we have has more in common with laughing at roadkill than a burning commentary of the unwholesomeness of American existence. I have heard people discuss the film on an intellectual level and while the story could be analysed that way, there is nothing in Bay’s direction that hints at anything deeper than “look at these idiots”. The film will prompt a lot of discussion, but is probably most valuable for bringing the original (excellent) Miami New Times story to a wider audience. It isn’t any indication that one should turn around on Michael Bay and get disappointed by his next film. It’s an original property, which sadly is a rare breed in our multiplex culture, and the most accurate ‘based on a true story’ movie since Black Hawk Down.

It’s raggedy and unkempt and badly put together, repulsive and compelling; and in the week that the fucking One Direction movie hits screens as part of a conspiracy to make me want to kill myself, please go and reward Hollywood for taking a risk with Pain and Gain, you might be revolted, but come and tell me what you think.

Written under duress by Steven.

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