The most interesting film this week, and probably of the first six months of the year, is Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain. Focused on a real life story of some bodybuilders turned criminals, Bay has adjusted the tone of the story from exceptionally dark and depressing to a slightly lesser dark and depressing story played up for some comedy. It was originally a newspaper story and it’ll make you question just low the depths of humanity can go a bit more, even after this past week of events. It’s one of the more depressing stories about how inhuman we can be towards each other in the name of greed, of course, and isn’t light reading in any aspect.
You can read the Miami New Times piece right here and check it out, of course.
This is why it makes for such a compelling film on the face. You have bodybuilding, the city of Miami and a story that’s really strong. Crime films have never been better as a genre in the past 10 years because of the number of real life stories that have been told. If you watched American Gangster you’d know that sometimes real life makes the best films; they left massive amounts of the real life story behind to make the story of Frank Lucas and the Cadaver Connection fit a three hour time frame. That seems to be the motif of the modern crime story based off something real; you’re constrained more by time than the material.
What they leave in, and what’s left out, is a game of story-telling meeting telling the full story that’s exceptionally difficult to balance. It’s like one of those teeter-totter things you played with as a child; trying to find a balance of being in the air and being on the ground as a youth is a lot like making a crime film about a real life tale. Often times the actual story will make the film look like chump change. This is why Pain & Gain intrigues me; how much is left off and how much is put in will be something to behold because it’s a lengthy story. We already know that the film is going to be changed because we’ve gone from a fairly significant cast of characters in real life to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie.
Throw in Rebel Wilson instead of a bikini model and you can already tell this is altered in significant doses from the original story. For time and story purposes it has to be so, of course, and not even the newly emerging best director alive candidate Ben Affleck is immune to making things more cinematic for the sake of a better movie. Sometimes the truth needs to be adjusted, at least, and if it inspires people to tackle the actual events then even better I suppose.
The full truth usually can’t be told for a lot of reasons about actual events, of course, but the thing I’m most aware of for Pain & Gain is what I like to call “The Michael Bay Factor.”
Yeah, this guy gets his own factor
I’ve defended Michael Bay before, of course, in this very column space and I didn’t plan on doing it again. But here’s the thing: no matter how good this film is (or is not) it probably won’t get a fair shake from plenty of critics and fans because of who directed it. It’s one of the more amusing things when it comes to writing about film: Michael Bay is permanently cast as the anti-Christ.
When people complain about films, especially in the summer time, there’s inevitability the complaint that Bay has somehow ruined films by making it easier to go more commercial than critical. The film as a product is somehow bad because Bay has crafted a formula that takes $2-300 million and brings back two to three times that usually. Sometimes more, as well, but you can’t say that Bay aspires to change cinema as a whole. He wants to blow stuff up, take hot women and make them bring an entire group of 13 year olds into puberty the fast way and profit all the way to the bank. This isn’t art for art’s sake; its good old fashioned commerce disguised as it.
He’s Roger Corman on the sort of steroids that can make a puny girly-man into an ‘80s professional wrestler, complete with the requisite lack of athletic ability and desire to wander around a third rate boxing ring pretending to be a tough guy.
“I’m going to ruin cinema with big explosions and robots, ha ha ha”
But the one thing Bay, for all his faults as a director, doesn’t get is a fair shake from most critics and those of note. You know the types; they’ve got their noses so high up in the air that you wonder how they walk a straight line without falling on their ass. Bay may be a lot of things but his films automatically get crapped on no matter what by a lot of people because his name was attached as opposed to not. Roland Emmerich is in a similar spot: dude generally can’t catch a break if he’s blowing stuff up at $200 million per diem.
The key thing in all of this is that it’s Michael Bay’s passion project, the one he had to do. A guy like Bay can make any film he wants to in Hollywood because he’s such a reliable profit generator. He may not win awards en masse but his movies have funded plenty that have. You can tell a lot about a director by the sort of film he puts his chips into to do; there’s something about this story that got Michael Bay to go “you know, I don’t feel like making tens of millions for another stupid Transformers film for once” and to go on the cheap. There’s something special about early Bay; people have downgraded The Rock and Bad Boys over the years because of Bay’s later films but they’re still first rate action films at a bare minimum.
They just happened to be made by the guy that churned out a lot of pedestrian action films, for lack of a better word, that happened to make a crap-ton of cash.
It’s the reverse for some other directors as well; Roger Ebert always gushed about Martin Scorsese no matter what. Scorsese had a number of turds in the punch bowl of greatness on his cinematic resume and yet the sheer glowing reviews of a film like The Aviator mystified me. I kept thinking “Did you actually watch the film or did you just call it awesome because Scorsese did it?” You can do the same with a lot of directors, too, as plenty get free passes because of their body of work as opposed to the current film.
On a long enough time line for any director not everything is a classic. Christopher Nolan gave us The Dark Knight Rises so not even he’s infallible.
I think of it like this: if you crafted The Avengers exactly as is but changed out Joss Whedon’s name for Bay’s as “Directed by” you’d have an entire generation of fanboys screaming about how Bay ruined their childhoods and such with his film. It would’ve made the reaction to the Star Wars prequels by anyone without the blinders on look like a modest brush back; Bay probably would’ve had to double his security and such because of the death threats.
So the critical reaction will be something to behold, I think, because Bay hasn’t crafted a film costing an exorbitant amount of money with some no-talent former Disney Kid and a random hot chick running around amidst $200 million of CGI. Can Michael Bay get a fair shake? I’m not sure.
A Movie A Week – The Challenge
This Week’s DVD – Like Water
At what cost genius? It’s a question I think those in the .0001% of their profession asks themselves all the time. I mean there’s only so much you can understand when someone like Martin Scorsese talks about making films. You’re going to understand only so much unless you’re in a similar air of making films; a man can be an artist in anything but only a few can be genuinely talented. Anderson Silva fits that mold.
Silva, the UFC middleweight champion and perhaps the best fighter alive/ever, has always been a mercurial talent.
I reviewed it during its limited VOD/Theatrical run in 2012 but, like any great documentary, I opted to get it on DVD and watch it again. It’s an interesting film to watch, for sure, and I think it might be the best look at the idea of physical genius as opposed to mental genius, of being brilliant with your body and not your mind.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club
The Big Wedding – A wacky wedding!
Skip It – Wedding films always suck without exception.
Pain & Gain – The true story of a bunch of bodybuilders who robbed rich people.
See It – Michael Bay’s passion project is so bizarre that you know it’s going to be either insanely awful or insanely brilliant. There’s no in between.
Arthur Newman – Colin Firth decides to change his identity and engage in shenanigans. Emily Blunt tags along.
See It – Colin Firth won an Oscar and did what I wished every high profile leading man would do: continue to take great roles instead of cashing it in.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.