Five Easy Pieces

5 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Jack Nicholson was never going to be another Jimmy Stewart. As early as his prefame days (in 1960s TV Westerns and Roger Corman cheapies), there was too much attitude, too much snarl.

Instead, he became the symbolic actor of the counterculture; his Hollywood ascent was as much a signal of change as the rises of Coppola and Scorsese. Five Easy Pieces, a brilliant gem of American psychological realism (where are these movies today?), is Nicholson’s arrival to the A-list. His Bobby Dupea flees a privileged upbringing, replacing it with grimy work in oil fields; there’s some serious denial here, some buried self-contempt.

The beauty of the film, though, cowritten by director Bob Rafelson and Carole Eastman (credited as Adrien Joyce), is that it avoids that contempt for its characters. Bobby’s fun-loving girlfriend, Rayette, is mental leagues beneath him, but as brought to life by the boisterous Karen Black, you immediately come to love her Tammy Wynette obduracy and pouty fits. Improbably, the two head back to Bobby’s wealthy home, to make peace with his dying father and stroll down the piano keys of our hero’s prodigy past. The movie is best known for a classic tell-off in a diner, but watch Nicholson’s eyes as he says it. The man is damaged and needs help.—Joshua Rothkopf

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