Five Easy Pieces Reviews
Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) is a worker on a Californian oil rig. He lives with his girlfriend Rayette and their relationship is starting to cool. Upon visiting his sister in Los Angeles, Bobby discovers that his father is gravely ill. He travels to Washington state to see him, but this forces many sore subjects with his family to come to the fore.
Had potential but is clumsily written and the main theme is underdeveloped. The scene setting has far too many sub-plots that go nowhere and just seem like drama for the sake of drama. Even once the movie starts to find its focus - when Bobby visits his father - there are still several detours and digressions that lead nowhere and add nothing.
Other than padding the movie, the other effect of these digressions is to lessen the weight and impact of the main theme - Bobby turning his back on his upbringing and father's wishes, and his reconciliation with his father. This is massively underdeveloped, and the is basically only explored in any detail in one scene. Even then this scene, which should have been the climax of the movie, is pretty short and shallow.
Can't fault Jack Nicholson's performance in the lead role, a performance for which he got his second Oscar nomination (after Easy Rider, a year earlier) and first Best Actor nomination. Karen Black was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Rayette. Some of the supporting cast's performances are quite cringeworthy though, with Billy Green Bush (as Elton) overacting and Ralph White (as Carl) just plain annoying.
In this film Nicholson showcases his talent as the main star for the first time. He had a supporting role in Easy Rider a year earlier than this film from 1970.
Nicholson plays the character of Robert Dupea. A blue collar oil rigger living in a trailer park with his waitress girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black).
He gets a message from his sister that his father is very ill so makes the momentous decision to return home.
The home is not what you would expect. It's more like a mansion home to classical pianists.
Rayette fits in well amongst the upper class family members.
Five Easy Pieces derives from the title of the book Robert used to study to learn the piano.
The film as an excellent example of the 'new wave' era of films produced from Hollywood and would ensure Nicholsons notoriety.
1970 but just as enjoyable nearly fifty years later.
Having just earned widely-recognized critical acclaim for his supporting performance in Dennis Hopper's counterculture classic Easy Rider (1969), Jack Nicholson was a big name at the time of Five Easy Pieces and established a key name in the counterculture movement. With the same sense of blunt nihilism in the atmosphere, Five Easy Pieces almost seems like director Bob Rafelson's companion piece to Easy Rider. By contrast, Easy Rider attempted to capture the manic energy of the counterculture era and the broadness of its effects spread all over America while Five Easy Pieces remains more focused on the individuals who were affected by it. Contemporary audiences won't be able to get the full effect of Five Easy Pieces because feeling the full power of the drama demands audiences who had first-degree experience with the harsh reality of counterculture time. Modern audiences are also less likely to be able to embrace the slow pace of the film or understand just how unconventional the film was for its time. Most of the value comes from the nostalgia factor; the fact that this was one of the original counterculture films and a major boost in Jack Nicholson's career. There is no doubt that the film retains strong narrative value, but one must understand and appreciate the context of the film to embrace its full value. But even then, the film doesn't hold up with the same entertainment value these days.
On the surface, Five Easy Pieces is a slow drama about a man who doesn't care about anything in life. He is estranged from his father, cheats on his girlfriend and never embraces his potential as a pianist. Through extremely slow-moving and subtle storytelling, we gradually learn more and more about protagonist Bobby Dupea. Problem is that when I say gradually, I mean at a rate which can prove very boring at times. It's difficult to understand why Bobby Dupea refused to take his talents beyond mere potential, and viewers are left to assume that he simply didn't because it was what people expected him to do and he refused to succumb to the demands of mainstream society and chose instead to pursue his own path. Of course this is contradicted by the fact that he took a job on an oil rig where he does little more than contribute directly to the corporate machine with his own hands. Essentially, the film is a testament to a man who feels nothing and loves nothing in life; an existence which is literally meaningless. This is a feeling which many audiences will be familiar with and so there is still empathetic value to the right viewer, but as far as entertainment value goes there is really only so much to feel for Five Easy Pieces in the modern day. Since Bobby Dupea essentially just moves from town to town without ever staying in one place, the story follows him and never sits down to appreciate the full extent of its dramatic potential and leaves viewers fazed by a spark which never becomes a fire. All in all, Easy Pieces relies too much on relatability, contemporary context and an excess of subtlety to claim your viewing pleasure. It's a prime example of a film which has not aged too well.
Still, Bob Rafelson's intentions are good and his sense of style is admirable. The on-location scenery of the San Joaquin Valley captures a perfectly accurate setting for the story. The on-location scenery gives a feeling of legitimacy to everything while the lifeless colour scheme of the buildings and endless dry horizon behind it captures a westernized feeling. A frequent theme of postmodern western cinema is the arrival of the frontier; a time in which the world changes and left countless people behind in disillusioned sadness and melancholy. The setting changes over the course of the story, but Five Easy Pieces always contains a very monochrome colour palette as it takes audiences on a tour of the American countryside. Not the sunny and beach-filled California, but the cold and muddy outskirts of Washington state. The cinematography captures everything nicely, blending the characters seamlessly with the setting to establish a feeling of lifelessness in them. This renders them as objects; figures as dead as the objects that surrounds them. The colour scheme is executed extremely well in Five Easy Pieces, and it seems to have come naturally with the film.
And the performances in Five Easy Pieces are certainly on target.
Given that Jack Nicholson's performance in Easy Rider was the most critically acclaimed of all of them, a counterculture themed film centred solely around him is clearly a popular idea. But rather than shamelessly claiming a paycheck, Jack Nicholson does exactly what you could expect and delivers an incredibly solid performance. With a tenacious grip on the directionless anger and frustrated of his spiritless character, Jack Nicholson perfectly encapsulates the disillusionment of the American everyman with his portrayal of Bobby Dupea. Though the film never completely certifies just what has caused the man to be dead inside, Jack Nicholson consistently keeps viewers enticed with his charismatic dramatic strength. He constantly remains in an intense state of mind which hints at ambiguous inner torment. This ultimately becomes unleashed towards the end of the film. When Jack Nicholson delivers his tearful monologue to his character's father at the end of the film, he single handily certifies that the entire film was worth watching. Breaking down to his unspeakable father as he discusses the conversation they might have been having had he not exiled himself from his father's existence is heartbreaking. It's one with the strength to make audience members consider those whom they have lost contact with. Jack Nicholson's incredible leading performance is the first of many deserving Academy Award nominations and a strong credit to his name.
Karen Black also delivers a powerful effort. Another name being carried over from Easy Rider, Karen Black may not get a character with the relevance that her performance deserves but she nevertheless delivers. She captures the positive-spirited but emotionally distraught product of a distant boyfriend; one who is heartbroken yet always trying to hide from the world around her and pretend things are ok. Karen Black's persistent optimistic façade with undertones of serious internal stress makes her a powerful effort anytime she is on screen. She makes a powerful pair alongside Jack Nicholson.
Susan Anspach's friendliness and clear understanding of both the characters and the world around her help to make her a compelling screen presence, and Billy "Green" Bush delivers a solid supporting effort.
Five Easy Pieces proves Bob Rafelson has a strong understanding for the contemporary age and knows how to grasp the best of Jack Nicholson's charisma, but the slow pace and abundance of subtlety leaves it having aged poorly.