Let’s start with some context:
Context 1.) Lot’s of people have been to see The Transformers Trilogy (collective 3 billion dollar gross for the trilogy and another 3 bankrolled and on the way). I am in the minority of people who do not put money into the pocket of Hollywood terror Michael Bay.
Context 2.) I am in the majority who see’s greatness in The Rock and his acting capabilities.
I don’t think he has hit his stride yet and I think he picks the wrong roles, but watch Southland Tales. Pretty please. It’s great and it’s slept on, just like The Rock himself.
What is this all in aide of proving? Well off the back of The Rock’s presence I decided to cut Bay a break and give Pain and Gain, his latest, a go. And what do you, it’s actually good! And not just surprisingly good, really rather great.
All the parties involved are on the top of their game. Bay directs his lowest budgeted film since his debut some 18 years ago, focusing on character and actual directing rather than crashing robots together. Mark Wahlberg’s Danny Lugo is essentially his Boogie Nights character Dirk Diggler, obsessed with success and the American Dream, naively shooting for the stars by any means necessary, purposely dumbed down to appear more likable. The Rock excels in a brilliantly lunatic performance as pumped up, jumped up Jesus freak cokehead Paul.
BUT. And it’s a big, fully capitalised BUT, I followed up with a bit of light reading up as I am wont to do after enjoying a movie as I did here. And what did I find you ask? Well, only that the facts in this so called “true story” (and they push that contrivance more than once; as The Rock nonchalantly grills a human hand, we are helpfully reminded; “this is still a true story”) are not necessarily made up, but unfortunately tinkered with.
Despite the atrocities they commit, the three bodybuilding kidnapper/murderers are made eminently likeable and their victim made fictionally more objectionable. Wahlberg’s Lugo is painted as a schlummy, beefed up idealist. His naivety comes off almost as cute; “bless that poor, put upon muscle-mountain. He’s sick of being shat on by the rich and the obnoxious, and so am I”, so you sympathise; “oh it’s just a light kidnapping, he’s taking from the rich, for himself, like Robin Hood without the selflessness”. It’s just that the real life Danny Lugo was a horrible, calculated murderer, someone that should never be sympathised with. He is not the hero, he is the villain.
But we get treated with buckets of Miami sun, glamour all over the place, he convinces his dimwitted stripper girlfriend that he’s in the CIA, just like the film, he’s lying to people, making them believe that he is good. Everything is washed over, violence becomes breezy, slapstick comical. Cinematically it is on point, it’s breathlessly cut, Sun soaked and heavily saturated, it zips about the place and is beautifully ostentatious. As a work of fiction it would be enjoyable to the nth degree.
But instead, Bay has been publicly called out by family members of victims for making light of the whole story, and so he should be. This re-appropriation of the truth is heinous, something unforgivable. It’s what we here at (Y) stand firmly against. As a filmmaker who’s reach is global, unbelievably huge as previously addressed, Michael Bay has an obligation to make sure that he puts an ethical message across.
Sure Wahlberg and his gang get caught in the end, but only after a highly enjoyable, very funny chase sequence in which he steals a boat and escapes to Cuba. It just keeps making light of these situations. Whether it was the screenwriter’s input or the producers suggestion or Bay himself calling the shots, changing the story, it is almost criminal how they manipulated their source material, a book written by a victim of the gang no less.
– Oliver Drew