One of my all-time personal favourites, "Five Easy Pieces" is an absolutely electrifying drama perfectly summing up bittersweetness of the 60's – a period of irreversible cultural transformation, which changed societies, but individuals even more. This great vision of Bob Rafelson, photographed by Laszlo Kovacs, played out by Jack Nicholson and Karen Black is one of the best, that American auteur cinema has had to offer. Emotionally exuberant picture featuring verbatim acting creations and surprisingly simple story flows high due to masterminded narration, transgressive pacing and spot-on shoots, utilizing non-ordinary angles. It's quasi antic connotations make it a little bit more than just a social critique and it's enigmatic ending embodies all, that truly timeless cinema should be associated with. While this is just one nugget in the epoch's pile of gold, only few 70's artistic flicks matched it with their passion and genuine storytelling qualities.
Bob Rafelson was one of these crucial forces in the late 60's and early 70's American cinema, which later lost their impact and were forgotten, covered up with other names like Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese. Still, he remains one of the most original auteurs and producers, who managed to inject new blood into the Hollywood system. In fact his "Head" (1968) besides casting The Monkees comes as one of the most original, surrealistic romps made in the 60's and although initially flopped, became the ultimate cult movie later on. That's where his collaboration with Jack Nicholson has started, who co-wrote this yummy flick. With "Five Easy Pieces" Rafelson was nominated for Oscar as a director and script writer – he took the first one in glory together with New York Critics Award. This on the other hand leaves me upset about Academy Awards today, won by pictures, which wouldn't probably even take a nomination 30 years before – for which I don't even bother watching them usually – but every time has it's "spirit" and the golden years will rather not come back.
"Five Easy Pieces" is a story of Robert Eroica Dupea, impersonated by Jack Nicholson – a romantic dropout from upper middle class nest of anything but average, classical musicians. Bobby – as we get to know him in the beginning – severed ties with his family and has gone down South to live a life of a physical labourer, moving from job to job, from town to town. Although at some point he's refused to pursue his family's artistic heritage (as his brother and sister did without a blink of an eye), he cannot find peace as a "class refugee", working in the oil fields, bowling, fucking girls and downing beers with his pal. But his girfriend Rayette (Karen Black) seems a perfect symbol of what he desperately struggles to embrace. She's easygoing, warm-hearted and pretty in a way, but brainless and lacking any wider horizons. Confused about his past Bobby plays along, but mixed emotions and guilt of losing the higher ground eventually provoke a fight with his buddy and then with Rayette. In the end he's just a non-committed drifter, who can only keep fear at bay for so long.
One of these days he doesn't want to take it anymore and visits her sister Tita in a recording studio. Narration makes clear, that she's a subpar pianist, but leaving a question about Bobby's talent open. Although she's very happy to see him, she needs to lay a very sad news on her brother. Their father had two strokes recently and doesn't seem to be feeling well. Jerked around by guilt and melancholy, Bobby decides to drive up the country to Washington, to visit his old home and check on his father. Making it a bundle, he decides to leave his girlfriend, but she makes a scene and thus they carry on together. However, he doesn't want to bring Rayette down, ashamed over her working class, non-educated background. Instead he forces her to stay in a cheap motel not far from the island, on which his family's been living.
As Bobby finally arrives, he finds his father terminal and a new tenant at home – a young pianist and his brother's girlfriend. That wakes up a yearning for a new affair as well as natural, musical talent. When he plays beautiful notes of Chopin – while camera rolls over family photos showing him next to his father – his status as the most talented one becomes obvious, explaining uneasy family tension around the life he chose. Although his savage nature and very unpredictable character will be more than a girl can take, Bobby beds her in the course of an action just to find out afterwards, that he's still not a good fit for quiet, classical pianist lifestyle and eventually leave home with Rayette. That leads to an unexpected, beautiful ending, which becomes the most precise depiction of Bobby's hasty, rebelious personality.
Rafelson's work is one of the most important American films ever made, paving the way for Jack Nicholson to the stardom. In "Five Easy Pieces" actor continues, what he started in "Easy Rider" finally breaking free from a burden of secondary roles. Although, we're gonna see Jack Nicholson doing even better (in "Last Detail", "Carnal Knowledge", "King Of Marvin Gardens" or "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"), this is the role to be acknowledged and remembered as it's here, where his pure hysterical energy and talent for bringing out character's metamorphosis got revealed in a raving streak of confrontations. But this masterpiece would never reach this level if not Laszlo Kovacs with his cameraman virtuosity – his total eye is just amazing. Obviously, top-notch screenplay by Rafelson and his clear, artistic vision come on the top, creating a perfectly structured tale with spontaneous narrative curves, invoking profound conflicts of the human nature as well as basic dilemmas of free thinking individuals in a modern, mobile society. This is an obligatory viewing for any serious film buff!