“He Rode The Fast Lane On The Road To Nowhere.”
Bobby Dupea, a drop-out from the upper-class, struggles to find meaning in a rootless, blue collar existence in America’s West. When he is drawn back home to his family’s estate to attempt a reconciliation with his dying father, his inner conflict deepens. .
The identity crisis that wracked American society in the late 60s and early 70s was reflected in a dramatic shift in American film. There was now a strong reaction against some of the earlier traditions of American storytelling in film, often typified by the John Wayne western, where existential questions could be resolved through the direct action of a morally self-assured protagonist. Many contemporary film makers now shifted their focus inwards towards an greater expression of the inner world of their characters in an attempt to reconcile many of the uncertain and often contradictory elements they encountered in this new moral landscape of American society. And when this increased emphasis on the psychological components of the individual and how that might serve as a reflection of society at large, were blended with a new freedom of expression through the increasing influence of the French “New Wave” – a new high point in American film was the result. Of the many of masterpieces produced during this rebirth, few stand out like Bob Rafelson‘s Five Easy Pieces. Although it is true to the spirit of the times, and there are no easy answers to moral questions in Five Easy Pieces, that doesn’t mean that it is an overly sombre affair. Here is a work of art that delights in many dramatic shades – from the many instances of anarchic black humour through to the most beautifully poised, heart felt moments of drama. Jack Nicholson, who had garnered deserved attention the year before in Easy Rider, was confirmed as a genuine powerhouse star in Five Easy Pieces, and his performance of the charismatic but restless, alienated and self-obsessed Bobby Dupea, still ranks as one of his best of his stellar career. And Karen Black, as Bobby’s uneducated and downtrodden girlfriend Rayette, gives a nuanced portrayal of such naked vulnerability that the likes of which have rarely been seen before or since. Above all else, Rafelson and co-writer Adrien Joyce refuse to degenerate into gross sentimentality or sermonising, but lightly yet effectively touch on themes of morality and mortality, family and masculinity, identity and existence. Five Easy Pieces is a film of stark, superbly judged and beautifully sustained contrasts. It contains some of the most memorable scenes in all cinema, and an ending that is such a master touch that it will echo long afterwards in your thoughts.