Five Easy Pieces Reviews
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.
Jack Nicholson's performance of a listless piano maestro who chose to distance himself from his musical family and Rafelson pulled some of the best single scene acting of Nicholson's career, which says quite a lot. That performance, with Kovacs cinematography, hold up several average scores and, like many of the recent films I have watched is dragged down by parity.
Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) works on an oil rig in California, a physically demanding vocation. It is not as if Bobby was born into this trait over is not prepared any alternatives. He was born into a family of very well-known and eccentric musicians. He was a prodigy at the piano and his childhood was devoted towards making him a concert pianist. Bobby's intrinsic nature was contrary to a life on stage performing for adoring crowds of sophisticated men and women. Bobby preferred a life of working hard playing even harder. His chosen exile from society is going well until Bobby learns that his father is dying. This prompted road trip Southern California up to Washington State to confront his father one last time. The necessity of this journey shakes Bobby out of his normal routine of drinking beer and bowling with his friend, Elton (Billy Bush). Elton has a wife and infant son which appears to have a marginal impact on his pursuit of happiness. Bobby's girlfriend Rayette Dipesto (Karen Black) is a scatterbrained waitress with aspirations of becoming a famous country music singer.
The usual plot points necessary for any drama concerning red necks dutifully met; Elton is arrested for a call to the year before and Rayette is pregnant. Bobby quits his job and plans to visit Los Angeles to meet up with his sister Partita (Lois Smith); also a concert pianist was making a recording. His assistant informed them that their father is dying. Along the way they pick up pair women, Palm Apodaca (Helena Kallianiotes) and Terry Grouse (Toni Basil), hitchhiking after their car was wrecked an accident. In one scene the quartet stopped Betty diner for some food. Bobby is very polite to the waitress (Lorna Thayer), as he orders an omelet with tomatoes and a side order of wheat toast. When the waitress informs him that there are no substitutions, no side orders of toast and you must order only worked on the menu, Bobby goes into one of the most elaborate orders ever given in a diner in one of the most iconic scenes Jeff Dickerson has ever performed.
When they finally get to the destination Bobby becomes acutely aware that Rayette lacks the social graces to fit in with his family. He registers her in a motel before heading to his family home. He walks in on his sister giving their father, Nicholas (William Challee) a haircut. The old man is oblivious to what's going on after suffering two strokes in the past. Bobby has been estranged from his father for many years which prompted his way into blue-collar work. At dinner they are joined by his brother Carl (Ralph Waite), a violinist, and his fiancée, Catherine Van Oost (Susan Anspach), yet another pianist. Bobby was never much for monogamy having cheated on Rayette numerous times back in California. Bobby, or Robert as Catherine refers to him, find themselves mutually attracted to each other and wind up having sex in her room. When Rayette runs out of money at the motel she comes to Dupea family home. The unexpected appearance is not well received especially from a by a haughty family friend, Samia Glavia (Irene Dailey).
This is one of the most interesting character studies ever committed to film. Although there are many fine performances contained within this movie is extensively of one man show dominated by Jack Nicholson's perfectly textured presentation of his character. Bobby is a man who hates himself. He tries to mask his self-loathing laughing it off but it remains seething just below the surface. The incident at the diner is an ideal demonstration of this duality within his personality. Bobby starts off very polite expecting the raters will take his order and bring him the food that he wants. When rebuffed it doesn't take long for that façade to erode with Bobby's well calculated alternative order culminating in his sweeping his arm for the table settings crashing to the floor. It seems that he chose the physically demanding job as an oil rig worker as a means to channel the potentially violent self-hatred he has to constantly keep in check. His disdain for himself prevents them from having any meaningful relationships. He reacts lackadaisical he and his best friend, Elton, are hauled off by the police Bobby is callously insensitive upon learning that his girlfriend is pregnant. A Blu-ray rendition of this as part of the Criterion Collection is long overdue. Their commitment to presenting a movie as closely as possible to its original theatrical release is a must especially for movies such as this. This also means that home theater enthusiast used to technical specifications that will push the limits of their home systems might be disappointed. The video is an artifact frees Widescreen 1.85:1 transfer. The color palette and contrast matching what you would have seen its original theatrical run. The audio track is the original Dolby mono. One thing I found to be very interesting is to activate one of my home theater receivers preloaded venue emulators. Most receivers offer a variety of audio styles ranging from large theaters to intimate clogs. Mine happens to have one meant for these older mono soundtracks providing a reverb similar to a movie theater of the era. The Criterion Collection remains true to film preservation. One of my pet peeves is cinephiles that demand in the original aspect ratio as set by the filmmaker. While I agree with this I can understand why they also are so willing to have the audio remastered just their entire speaker array can be utilized. As always a Criterion release remains true to both the audio and video including the cleanest remastering of both you are likely to ever find. Jeff Dickerson is undoubtedly one of the great actors L country has ever produced. He is an instance where a character actor and soul and body the personality and physical traits of his character that his talent had to propel him to the status of leading man. Nicholson is known for going over the top of his performances this is a case with the shows he has the control over his expression that enables him to channel it into an incredible performance here.