I didn’t care for Pain & Gain, and no, it’s not because it’s a movie by Michael Bay. I happen to be a big Michael Bay fan. Love The Rock and the Bad Boys movies. Enjoy Armageddon. I even like all three Transformers flicks. But there was something about Pain & Gain that really got under my skin, and I think it was the fact that this is based on a true story.
Who are we rooting for in the film? From the outset the story is set up so we are supposed to have some level of sympathy for our “hero,” Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) who believes in fitness. He’s a motivated guy with big dreams, but his dreams appear to be directly connected to his disdain for those who have worked hard to get what they have. And Daniel wants what they have and decides to take it by force.
So he recruits two other gym rats played by Anthony Mackie and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to help him out, and what follows is a pretty disturbing sequence of events. As I watched I kept wondering why these three men who had kidnapped, tortured, and extorted money from a man (Tony Shalhoub) who had done nothing to really deserve said punishment were being glorified for their actions. That certainly seems to be how the film portrays them and their evil deeds.
Are we to see them as heroes? Martyrs? Representative of the 99% that decided to fight back against the evil 1% (even though this wasn’t a thing in the 90s)? As events escalate and things get darker, more violent, and uncomfortable to watch I really had to question what moral questions Bay was posing by showing these men essentially as heroic in their quest for millions. They didn’t earn it. They didn’t deserve it. They took it and innocent people suffered and even died because of them.
Had this been a work of fiction it may have been easier to digest, but the fact that this is based on a true story – a fact the movie likes to remind you of several times – it makes things all the more disconcerting and uncomfortable to watch. Pain & Gain revels in its immorality and the lack of conscience that its three leads possess.
While I admire these three actors for portraying such horrific real-life monsters it’s still difficult to find them likeable given the atrocities they inflict on innocent people over the course of the film.
Stylistically, the film has all the hallmarks of a Michael Bay film, which makes Pain & Gain a visual feast for fans of his cinematic works. Bay is a true master of the big-budget, over-the-top, in-your-face type of filmmaking that attracts audiences to the box office time and time again. With Pain & Gain he may have all the style present, but the substance of the story may be hard for some to deal with.
Ultimately, Pain & Gain offers up plenty of action, lots of laughs (it is billed as a comedy, after all), and a solid cast that help make the film work even if it did make me question the story’s choice of perspective and it’s attempt at having us sympathize with these true crime thugs.
Pain & Gain is in theaters now.
What did you think of Pain & Gain? Leave a comment and let us know!