FIVE EASY PIECES (1970) Movie Review

When you think about movies that you’ve recently watched, you’ll likely remember a handful of titles that you really enjoyed and some others that you quite clearly disliked. It’s a bit more rare though to come across a film which you kind of loathe and love at the same time.

Five Easy Pieces is one such film in my cinematic chronology.

It goes without saying that this Jack Nicholson vehicle has garnered its fair share of critical acclaim, and this is with good reason. On a basic level, the cinematography and direction is an often stunning achievement with nice uses of picturesque landscape shots, both lush and colorful as well as bleak and grey.

Moreover the screenplay and the acting are both very effective. Nicholson in particular gives an exceptional performance as our lead protagonist – in fact, he is sometimes a little too good.

This may seem like a contradictory issue to have with the film, indeed it is, but at times Nicholson is more convincingly unlikeable than one might expect from their main character. Obviously this is done intentionally in the context of the story, and it is a quality that lends itself to how things ultimately play out, but for the first act of Five Easy Pieces, the unmistakable slime-y quality of this character can get overwhelming.

I would also be at fault if I failed to mention some of the supporting players written into this story. While, as I mentioned, these roles are universally played quite well throughout the proceedings, one can’t help but ignore how dated some of the character archetypes felt, most noticeably with Nicholson’s country-singing girlfriend and with a rather vocal hitchhiker, the latter of which giving an irritatingly repetitive series of counterculture ramblings that may cause some listeners to start telling their televisions to just shut up already. To which the movie will simply reply, “Fuckin’ people, man…”

Yes, Five Easy Pieces does have its faults and Nicholson’s character of Bobby Dupea is occasionally fairly contemptible, but what makes this piece of work enduring is that, by and large, the unlikeable aspects are here for a purpose, and at the story’s conclusion, we can see that the presence of these qualities actually have made the film more complex and interesting.
The movie, after all, is about flaws, disappointments, and not living up to expectations or living by certain conventions, and by that measure, Nicholson’s character fits in perfectly. Hell, by story’s end we are starting to actually relate to Bobby.

To make a character who is so superficially easy to dislike sympathetic is a real testament to the finesse of this film.

How does one go about summing up a movie like Five Easy Pieces?
I would say it’s an unforgettable movie of imperfection, uncomfortable realism, and deceptive beauty.

Perhaps the best compliment to give such a film.

Rating: 4 of 5

~ Stephen

Vía Letterboxd – The Paper Masque blog