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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15.79%
Worth A Look: 26.32%
Average: 15.79%
Pretty Bad36.84%
Total Crap: 5.26%

1 review, 13 user ratings

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Five Easy Pieces
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by MP Bartley

"We all dance along to Jack's tune."
2 stars

When Jack Nicholson inevitably shuffles off this mortal coil, the one clip that they should roll out to pay tribute to him, and to sum up his essence as an actor, is the diner scene from Rafelson's film.

As Bobby Duprea, Nicholson (and it's in the phase of his career when you'd call him Nicholson, rather than Jack, which I think is quite telling) is a blue-collar oil rig worker with a secret - he comes from money, and his family - he included - are all notable musicians. After learning that his father is seriously ill, he heads back home, reluctantly taking his girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black) with him, to try and make peace with the family he was so keen to escape from.

The diner scene, then, occurs about halfway through. Bobby, Rayette and two hitchhikers they've picked up have stopped off to have something to eat, but the bored and uncooperative waitress refuses to adapt Bobby's order to exactly what he wants. "No substitutions" she drawls. What follows is Nicholson's greatness in a nutshell - a fiery dislike of pettiness in authority, rolled up with an almost-touching refusal to be cowed and a heroic stance that says everything about what he believes is right and what is right is worth fighting for, no matter how trivial. In full flow, barking out his argument, cushioning the words with a mixture of charm and contempt, his body language slowly tensing up with anger, Nicholson is a marvel to watch (a goddamn marvel, some would say). In the '70s, he was nigh-on incomparable and Five Easy Pieces is just one entry in his body of work that makes him, in this reviewer's opinion one of the three great American actors of all time.

But no matter how alive and vital Nicholson can make any scene, he can't trick you into thinking that there's a lot to Five Easy Pieces besides himself. It's one of those scuzzy, bitter '70s films, all about the mood and full of downbeat talking that doesn't have much a human centre to it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, but it still has to tell some sort of compelling story and not be content with merely having a spiky attitude and salty characters. Rafelson doesn't and despite Nicholson's best efforts, it comes off as an impersonal and sour exercise, trying but failing to achieve profundity.

No, it's best instead to simply watch it as a series of great Jack moments. Barking in the face of a dog, playing piano on the back of a truck unaware of his presence, or losing his cool in the face of a pretentious family friend who patronises Rayette (Karen Black is the only other reason to give the film a go. A peppy ray of sunlight to counter Bobby's stormy countenance, her request to watch TV while the family drone on about art, politics and feminism is just adorable - and a request we have full sympathy with), this is Nicholson at his very, very best. But it's films like Chinatown or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that give him the material that he deserves.

Bobby begins and ends the film in much the same way - itchy, dissatisfied and irritated at life. It's a feeling that transmits to the viewer.

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originally posted: 02/04/12 06:14:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/09/12 Keith Miron it's good to see sally struthers before All in the family 3 stars
2/09/12 David Hollingsworth Complex, with Nicholson in one of the best, and earlier films 5 stars
11/16/05 Jake Good, but not great. But I did relate to the main character. 3 stars
6/09/05 Agent Sands Jack Nicholson was in the 60s & 70s, and still is, one of the finest actors in cinema. 5 stars
12/29/04 burton miller OVERRATED - 15 seconds of interesting dialog 1 stars
9/04/04 T.B. I Love the scene with Jack and his girlfriend at resturant about the sandwiches 4 stars
3/09/04 O Neill Is it artsy because it turned out Dupea come from a wealthy background? 5 stars
7/12/03 Farnq Y what is it about Jack and waitresses? (see As good as it gets) 4 stars
5/21/03 Ryan F. An average film pushed above average by incredible performances 4 stars
3/22/03 Jack Sommersby Overpraised artsy crap kept alive only by Nicholson. 2 stars
1/05/03 R.W. Welch Moody set piece that launched Jack's star; diner scene alone is worth the rental. 4 stars
12/23/02 Charles Tatum Aside from the classic diner scene, there is nothing here 3 stars
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  11-Sep-1970 (R)
  DVD: 14-Dec-2010

  N/A (15)

  02-Feb-1971 (M)

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