"Pain & Gain" Review

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I’m perplexed by “Pain & Gain”. It was a pain to sit through at times during those two hours and nine minutes, but it made some profound statements on the American Dream and greed that I don’t think it even knew it made. Or did it? So therefore I may have gained appreciation for Michael Bay in that he used his stylistic direction to take an unbelievable real life crime story and show us how stupid criminal activity can be.

Mark Wahlberg is Daniel Lugo, the brains of the criminal operation, and that’s not saying he has much brain power. All of his heroes are self made, and he believes in working hard to make something of himself. Tired of being where he is in life, Lugo comes up with a plan to relieve millionaire Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) of all of his assets through a kidnapping scheme. In order to do this, he has to recruit other people in his plan.

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is Paul Doyle, a former coke addict inmate turned to Christianity, and Anthony Mackie is a wanna be muscle man with an impotency problem as Adrian Doorbal. The three men have two common bonds, a love of fitness and the desire to achieve their own version of the American Dream. To them, the goal of having what they see on TV, in movies, and other forms of media is worth having to the point that they’re willing to kidnap and eventually kill for it. 

Every major character gets their own voiceover and tells their side of the story as it’s unfolding. Lugo is envious of Victor but when Victor tells his story he had equal tenacity and desire to be where he is in his economic status. As much of a rich snob that Victor is, he worked extra hard to get there. While Lugo’s hero Scarface inspires him to take, and as the movie’s one liner goes, “be a doer!” The parallels to Lugo and company’s rise and fall is very similar to that of Scarface in that their pride and lust for more becomes their downfall.

The fine line in society between thinking about major crimes and acting it out is for a small percentage of people (I’d like to think). So how do you show the insanity of crossing that line? Give Michael Bay the director’s seat and let him use every tool in his bag of low angle, slow motion, spinning camera moves to make these three men look as dumb as their plans. Bay is known for his larger then life filmmaking and something about his slick style and this stupid/sad but true story does a great job of showing the glamour of the American Dream and the pitfalls of achieving it illegally. Whether he’s using the camera to objectify women in this film’s world, give the zeros their hero shot, or emphasize their stupidity, Bay does it well. While this may not be one of his best films, it does seem like one of his most- dare I say- thought provoking.

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Wahlberg leads his cast of merry men as you’d expect with the usual solid performance. Mackie, who undoubtedly has acting talent, was poorly cast in a role that should have gone to a loud mouth comedian. Yet it’s Johnson who gives one of his better performances taking the role of a dumb jock man-child to new heights. He’s aware of his physical stature and uses it to his advantage with subtlety in his acting decisions to make his character a comical but complex “weak link” as he’s called in the trio.

Overall I wasn’t expecting to have my mind blown in seeing this film and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s one of those films that you walk out of the theater, greeted by the light of day, and everyone is collectively in silence thinking about what’s for dinner, or what’s next on their plate for the day. An unmemorable film with a few profound statements on society.

Rating C-

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.