Pain & Gain Review – Bay’s Bonkers Bash

Director: Michael Bay

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Pete Collins (articles)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub

Release date: August 8th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


Best part: Dwayne Johnson.

Worst part: The Michael Bay-isms. 

Remember the 1990s? It was a far more peaceful time – back when boy bands ruled the airwaves, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air skyrocketed to mega-popularity, and Internet Explorer was still relevant. As a 90s kid, I look fondly back on this time and continually find more glaring similarities and differences between then and now. In the 90s, Miami, Florida was home to one of the most shocking crimes in US history. Action-comedy Pain & Gain is the ‘Michael Bay-directed’ account of this tragic event.

Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson& Anthony Mackie.

I used quotation marks in the previous sentence to make a specific point about this movie. Bay (Armageddon, the Transformers trilogy) is one of the most controversial directors in tinsel-town history. Many blame him for the death of modern cinema (Pearl Harbour was undoubtedly a huge misstep!) and continually criticise his ear-and-eyeball-shatteringly-brash style. However, his bombastic popcorn flicks have supported many careers and studios (dammed with faint praise). Since his filmography is a mixed bag (to say the least), Pain & Gain may just be his magnum opus. This hauntingly vile yet exciting and visceral action-comedy repeatedly states that it’s ‘based on a true story’. In the first three minutes, we see body-builder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) impressively performing sit ups shortly before running from a barrage of policemen. The movie then steps back a few months, and Lugo is working for the man. Lugo, an over-worked yet optimistic personal trainer at Miami’s Sun Gym, is forced to work with high-paying client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Inspired by self-help guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo asks work-mate Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help him kidnap Kershaw and steal all his worldly possessions. However, their incompetent plan is met with hostility from Kershaw, former detective Ed Du Bois III (Ed Harris) and Miami’s steamy criminal underbelly.

Tony Shalhoub.

What follows is a tale of violence, tyranny, anguish, emotional turmoil, and dream chasing. Yes, this movie is a stew filled with chases, enviable settings, disturbing violence, and A-list actors (you know, the ‘typical’ Hollywood movie ingredients). However, Pain & Gain startlingly deviates from what a standard run-of-the-mill action-comedy would do. Turning this horrific yet though-provoking true story into a relentless farce is a bizarre premise in itself. Here, Bay throws preconceptions of all kinds out the window. His idea of the ‘American Dream’ is clichéd and shallow, but it makes for a topical, discomforting, and enthralling movie-going experience. Pain & Gain clearly suggests that life is not worth living unless you have reasonable goals, a can-do attitude…and enviable possessions. In keeping with these pessimistic messages (such as they are), Bay’s superficial world (seen in all of his movies) is depicted here as a lugubrious, slimy, and morally weak black hole. Bay’s mean-spirited and chauvinistic creation knowingly points out the dangers that come of economic turmoil and unadulterated obsession. Thankfully, the familiar yet refreshing crime-thriller aspects keep this controversial movie in check. Throughout Pain & Gain, Bay alerts us to that split second when the lead characters go from laughably bumbling morons to villainous, delusional, and selfish delinquents. Despite the aforementioned abrupt tonal shifts, Bay makes sure the audience can ably laugh at, but never with, the three anti-heroes.

Ed Harris.

Ultimately, Bay proves with Pain & Gain that he has the potential to create gleefully satirical, dark, and multi-layered action flicks (and who on Earth saw that coming?!) Despite Pain & Gain’s glowing positives, Bay’s sexist, racist, homophobic, manic, and atmospheric directorial ticks are on display once again. His crass/frat-boy-like filmmaking style/sense of humour overshadows everything he touches. Bay’s repetitive and abrasive approach may test well with audiences, but he needs to branch out if he wants to be treated like an adult. If Hollywood were a high school, The Coen Brothers would be the popular, talented kids whilst Bay would be the nerdy youngster with a creepy yet obvious crush. In fact, Pain & Gain, conceptually and narratively, draws major comparisons to Burn After Reading and Fargo. However, whereas those crime-dramas are consistent, intelligent, and punchy, this movie fails to come up a clever, original or subtle stylistic choice. Bay delivers yet another blood, sweat, and expletive-filled universe. The 90s, by this movie’s standards, glistens with jaw-droppingly gorgeous bodies, bright lights, bold colours, and stereotypical comic reliefs. For some reason, many shots zoom through bullet holes and around characters. I’ve also never understood his obsession with low angles, explosions, and gratuitous slo-mo. Unequivocally, It’s the Bay-isms that distract from what the movie is trying to say about wealth, masculinity, power, and friendship.

“Jesus Christ Himself has blessed me with many gifts! One of them is knocking someone the f*uck out!” (Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), Pain & Gain).

The Sun Gym gang.

If you find True Romance/Out of Sight-esque crime-capers annoying and pretentious, you should probably check out Now You See Me instead. Like Now You See Me, the A-list cast elevates the mediocre material. Unlike that movie, however, Pain & Gain isn’t entirely brainless. Aided by the enjoyably silly yet unique narration, this movie highlights the aesthetic and magnetic qualities of its performers. Wahlberg’s enigmatic and captivating screen presence elevates his strange yet fascinating role. Used to playing hard-nosed cops and criminals, Wahlberg could’ve done this in his sleep. However, his wacky character is a steroid-filled shot to this movie’s heart. Emulating such masculine figures as Tony Montana, Rocky Balboa and Michael Corleone (“I watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I’m doing!”), Lugo believes his muscle-fuelled lifestyle will bolster his ridiculous and disgusting get-rich-quick scheme. Despite his dim-wittedness, Lugo’s blissful ignorance and persistence are, at points, hilariously charming traits (similarly to his Boogie Nights character). The Stand out performer here is Johnson. Coming off G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Fast and Furious 6, Johnson has established himself in 2013 as the next Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone-type action hero. Able to inject charisma, physicality, and grit into any role, Johnson in Pain & Gain balances wit, magnetism, and an inhumanly muscular frame to turn in a nuanced performance. His hysterically zany character, obsessed with Jesus and Cocaine (what a combination!), is a truly affecting and disturbing creation. I hope we see more of Mackie after his enjoyable performance here. Shalhoub, Jeong, and Harris deliver charismatic turns in small roles. On the other end of the spectrum, a little of Rebel Wilson’s ‘comedy’ goes a long way!

Turning this impactful true story into a pulsating action-comedy would’ve been an ambitious and incomprehensible task. However, Bay has done a remarkable job with allowing us to laugh at these absurdly dumb characters. Pain & Gain is an outlandish, insane, and lurid movie about the American Dream.

Verdict: A relentless, punchy yet bizarre action-comedy.

The Imposter Review – Terrifying Truths

Director: Bart Layton 

Stars: Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker


Release date: August 24th, 2012

Distributors: Picturehouse Entertainment, Revolver Entertainment, Indomnia Releasing

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


Best part: The chilling interviews.

Worst part: The vague messages.

Errol Morris’ award winning and influential documentary The Thin Blue Line was revelatory in its illustration of an important issue affecting the american judicial system. Its profound dramatisation of events is used similarly in the French docu-thriller The Impostor, a polarising look at one of the most inexplicable crimes in middle America’s history.

Frederic Bourdin.

Frederic Bourdin.

This event begins in 1994 with the disappearance of 12 year old Nicholas Barclay in San Antonio, Texas. Over three years later, Frederic Bourdin, a French teenager surviving the streets of Spain steps forward; claiming to be the sweet Texan boy presumed deceased. What unfolds is a character study based on the extremities Bourdin reaches to convince the still grieving and baffled family that Nicholas has returned. With several eyewitnesses government types and family members carefully tracing his every step before, during and after the shocking revelation, Bourdin continually recounts a life lead between his introduction into their world and eventual capture by Interpol.

Charles Parker.

Charles Parker.

Much like The Thin Blue Line, in which a vivid array of testimonials and re-enactments proved the case against convicted felon Randall Dale Adams to be fraudulent, The Impostor has the attractive elements of a gritty 90’s crime thriller with the informative structure of expository documentary film-making. Director Bart Layton has no immediate influence on proceedings. Instead he allows testimonials to speak for themselves, creating sympathetic yet questionable characters out of the victims and suspects of this story. Told in non-linear fashion, his low grade style of dramatisation allows for a nuanced narration of important re-enacted events from his interviews. Fluidly transitioning between past and present, The Impostor plays out like an on-going case, with Leyton continually changing sides on this important issue. The viewer will ultimately be polarised between the victims and suspects based on the harrowing evidence brought to light at every twist and turn. Leyton’s dramatisation of past events is created through a darker tone than most documentaries. The contrast created between the darkened, decrepit streets and orphanages of Spain, and the peaceful country lifestyle of San Antonio, develops a thought provoking motive for Bourdin’s sickening actions. The use of fluorescent lighting in particular creates a visceral edge for this dramatisation commonly found in David Fincher’s stellar crime-thriller creations such as Fight Club and Se7en.

“A new identity was a real passport, an American passport, I could go to the US, go to the school there, live with that family and just being someone and don’t never again to to worry about being identified.” (Frederic Bourdin, The Imposter).

The infamous phone booth scene.

The infamous phone booth scene.

Leyton’s objectivity is vital for re-creating the elements of this ordeal. Bourdin’s unsettling mind is chillingly examined through testimonial from Bourdin himself. Behind his creepy smile and wide eyes, a sympathetic yet unnerving young man with a strong determination for finding love through family bonds is uncovered as the motives and methods behind his many fraudulent and tortuous crimes are intelligently discussed. The viewer’s obvious choice to side with the grieving family may come at a cost as more is revealed about the origins of Nicholas’ disappearance. A noticeable level of ineptness is depicted through their testimonials as assumptions are slowly and carefully drawn about Nicholas’ living situation. “Spain? isn’t that on the other side of the Country?” Nicholas’ sister recalls saying through testifying her role in the ordeal. With many elements of this case based on poor judgements by the alarming number of american ambassadors, private investigators and Interpol officials involved, The Imposter makes a strong case for the number of bureaucratic post-war security hiccups to be considered a legitimate concern.

Being the most valuable film and TV genre, documentary can inject interest even the most trivial events and issues. Here, Bart Layton has done just that. Thanks to his attention to detail, his latest effort delivers more chills than most big-budget schlockers.

Verdict: An intelligently dramatised documentary with genuine chills.