Pain & Gain; Truth & Fiction

"Pain & Gain"

“Pain & Gain”

I am not generally a fan of Michael Bay.  As a Transformers fan who spent decades looking forward to a live action adaptation of the franchise, I was greatly disappointed with the films Bay put together as they diverged greatly from the source material and spent more times on human characters than they did on the robot characters which made the original series so great.  Neither Pearl Harbour, nor Armageddon are films I would consider watching a second time.  Both are kitsch melodramas that rely on special effects.  In my book, special effects should enhance a film, not define it.

Rebel Wilson: Hilarious and gorgeous as Robin Peck in "Pain & Gain".

Rebel Wilson: Hilarious and gorgeous as Robin Peck in “Pain & Gain”.

This is not to say that Michael Bay isn’t good at something.  He certainly mastered the action/comedy genre (elements of this crop up in each of the Transformers films), even if he does draw heavily on predecessors like Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills CopBad Boys is a case and point, and The Rock was certainly and entertaining action film, albeit one lacking any semblance of substance.  In his most recent effort though, Bay returns to what he does best: action/comedy.  Pain & Gain is a perfect film in terms of the genre it works in.  It is an excellent production with a cast that generally pulls off most scenes and has great comedic timing in many instances, even if some scenes are a little over the top.  Rebel Wilson is brilliant and sexy and funny as Robin Peck, and is one of the highlights of the film.  Mark Wahlberg is great.  It is true that he has a limited range, but he has mastered the range he has and knows how to pick a great story that he fits in well with.  Dwayne Johnson has some really great scenes, even if he is guilty of hamming it up a bit (which I expect was at the request of his director).  Ed Harris is great as always, and while I don’t think the film served to showcase the talents of Anthony Mackie (who was fantastic in The Hurt Locker), he is efficient in this film.  Bar Paly, and Keili Lefkovitz are both beautiful and hilarious in the small roles allotted to them, and Ken Jeong got perhaps the loudest reaction from the audience as Johnny Wu, a lampoon of 90’s infomercial king Tom Vu.  The script is funny, and smart, the characters, though flawed, are relatable and sympathetic and perhaps most importantly entertaining, and on top of it there is some interesting satire on the American dream (aka capitalism).  But there is a problem with the film, and that is its claim to have been based on a true story.

Model/actress Bar Paly plays a stripper duped into believing she has been recruited into the CIA.

Model/actress Bar Paly plays a stripper duped into believing she has been recruited into the CIA.

“Based on a true story!”  Many movies boast this as if it makes the movie better for some reason.  It doesn’t.  In fact, more often than not, it dilutes the effectiveness of the film.  What actually happened is that two innocent people were brutally murdered and dismembered.  Their murder was premeditated and there was not an ounce of humour in it.  Their killers were criminals who very much intended to kill their victims.  In the film, the criminals are accidental killers.  The victims are morally corrupt.  The scene in which they are killed is comical to the point of farce.  The reality and the film do not sit easily side by each.  The film serves to desecrate the graves of those who were murdered, and makes light of the victims.  It is like making a movie about the Boston Marathon bombers where they are presented as likable, funny characters who are misguided and bumbling idiots who accidently kill several people while trying to pull a heist involving explosives, while also portraying the victims as farcical characters devoid of humanity.  If anybody dared to make such a film, it would get torn to shreds.  What this film does is not different.  Bay spent so much time trying to make an entertaining film that he seemed to have forgotten that the story he was telling was true and that the victims were real.  At the end of the day, regardless of the fact that the film is entertaining, it is an exploitation of suffering.

Did I mention that model/actress Bar Paly stars in the film?

Did I mention that model/actress Bar Paly stars in the film?

I wouldn’t have an issue with anything presented in the film if it simply did not sell itself as a true story, or rather admitted that while inspired by true events, it is ultimately a work of fiction.  In that case it would have simply been a dark comedy that served as great satire.  The ironic part is that the movie failed to incorporate some of the aspects of the true story that would have best fit with such a satire.  The surviving victim, Marc Schiller (played in the film by Tony Shalhoub), who was initially kidnapped and had his fortune extorted from him, was actually a despicable character in real life.  After he testified at the trial, he himself was put on trial for a Medicare fraud case in which he was facing 25 years in prison (10 more than what one of his kidnappers was sentenced to).  Ultimately he was given a reduced sentence almost four years in length, but the fact that he himself had robbed people makes what he endured seem like an example of karma.  That’s not to say he deserved what happened to him, but it is certainly the case he did not earn his money honestly any more than the people who kidnapped him did.  He was a thief being robbed by thieves.  The irony is that there is no honest way to earn a fortune in capitalist society, which seems to be the underlining point of the film.  It reminds me of a line from a classic Electric Six tune: “like any self-respecting multibillionaire.”  Self-respecting and billionaire is almost an oxymoron in a capitalist society.  It would have been a great lampoon if the film embraced its own fictions while highlighting the irony of the actually events, but instead it tries to sell itself as the truth, and in so doing marginalizes the victims while absolving the murders, to some degree at least, of culpability.  As a result, it is hard to praise the movie even if it did a great job of entertaining.

Spanish-Dutch actres Yolanthe Cabau also appears in he film.

Spanish-Dutch actres Yolanthe Cabau also appears in he film.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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