PAIN & GAIN
By Gary Murray
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Directed by Michael Bay
Running time 130 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Michael Bay is a director known for high-level action and special effects. Some of his films are Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, The Island, the Bad Boys series and the Transformers series. All of his works have moments of stunning brilliance and many more moments that make one wince. Pain & Gain could be his most complete work to date.
The screenplay is based on a true story. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a personal trainer/fitness guru who wants more out of life. He sees some of the richer members of the club strutting around and figures that they should give him all their money. He becomes obsessed with Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub); a man owns many businesses which include a sandwich shop.
First, Daniel gets his buddy Adrian (Anthony Mackie) into the scheme, then they get recently released con Paul (Dwayne Johnson) into their fold. They are going to kidnap Victor, get him to sign all his wealth over to them and become rich themselves. The idea is to disguise their voices and make Victor think it was done by Columbians.
Almost instantly the plan goes awry when Victor recognizes Daniel. They torture and push the businessman until he eventually gives in to his demands. That ends Act One.
Act Two is the aftermath of the crime. This bodybuilding trio runs wild, spending the cash. They make their second big mistake by not successfully killing their victim.
Victor tells his story to the police but they do not believe him. So, Victor hires a private investigator (Ed Harris). He also does not believe the story, but takes the case anyway. His investigation makes him a believer of Victor’s story. The investigator also knows that these guys will eventually decide to do this again.
The last act is the second attempt at crime and their eventual downfall. It is the unraveling of the plan the second time and how they are caught.
This is a very violent film, especially in the third act. It makes such a severe turn into some of the blackest of black comedy. The further down the rabbit hole the film travels, the less light there is on the proceedings. The film is basically how stupid some people can actually be.
The fact that Michael Bay keeps pushing that this is a true story makes it that much more frightening. The screenplay is based on a series of articles published in 1999 but one feels that there must be some writer’s embellishments here and there.
The biggest surprise in the cast is by Dwayne Johnson. He has gone from a WWE set of muscles to a competent thespian. There are subtle aspects to the role that he grasps with a grace he has never shown on the screen. This may open an entire new level of respectability for the actor.
Mark Wahlberg looks absolutely fabulous in this role. He is cut and buff to a degree he hasn’t ever been before, even in his Marky Mark days. It is just that we have seen him play this type of dimwit before. There is not much of a challenge to the role and Mark seems to be going through the motions than committing to the acting credo.
In small roles are Bar Paly and Rebel Wilson, two women who are polar opposites in looks but who give comparable and strong readings in small roles. They are the ‘girlfriend’ roles, peppered in the world of men. Rebel Wilson especially shows that she can take a few scenes to create a grand presence. She deserves some bigger parts.
This is a Michael Bay film but it doesn’t have that slickness usually associated with is work. This is a gritty little crime thriller, much more in the vein of a Quentin Tarantino than Alfred Hitchcock. Bay tells a compelling and twisted story with that flourish associated with the director, a nice change of pace for him. Just like every one of his other films, Pain & Gain just needed to be edited a little tighter.