Michael Bay has achieved his best work with Pain and Gain. I know some of you are thinking that is not saying much, but there is something uniquely surprisingly sensational about the true story of a trio of bodybuilders and their real life crime spree in 1990s Miami that transcends everything else the director has ever produced.
As shown in the Pain and Gain trailer, Mark Wahlberg stars as Daniel Lugo, the de facto leader of our gang of misguided misfits. He has a history of trying to cheat his way to the American dream, but as Pain and Gain begins, he seems to have resigned himself to the fact that it simply takes hard work to achieve. Lugo is the lead fitness instructor at a Miami gym, who has turned Rob Corddry’s facility from an old age workout center to a pulsating beacon of South Florida fitness.
Although successful, for his field, he sees his clients as having it all… and he wants it.
His best pal, Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), works alongside him and drinks whatever Kool Aid Lugo serves. Doorbal has a penchant for larger ladies and resents that he has to squirm financially when he takes them out for dinner and they order dessert. Lugo convinces him that isn’t right. This is America, damn it, and they work hard… so where is the opulent success?
When Lugo gets a new client, Victor Kershaw (the always stellar Tony Shalhoub), a light bulb goes off above his head. Kershaw is an egotistical jerk who seems to use each fitness session with Lugo to rub his self-made success in his face. During one of those workout sessions, Lugo decides… he’s going to kidnap Kershaw and take him for everything he’s worth. After all… the hard worker bee deserves it. As he says, “Where’s my slice of the pie?”
They’ll need more muscle to achieve the job, ironic given how ripped Wahlberg and Mackie are in the film! In walks Dwayne Johnson’s Paul Doyle, looking for a job in the gym. He’s got a cocaine problem and a rap sheet and truly can’t find a job anywhere else. Given his killer physique, Lugo knows he’s just the man for the job -- both in the gym and out of it.
What is so astounding about Pain and Gain is that Bay actually takes the time to develop a story that still has a lot of action in it, but with character development throughout that actually makes us care for these guys. Yes, they are wholeheartedly wrong in their efforts. But, there is something about how Bay paints these three that we pull for them. And yes, we know it’s wrong.
Bay gives South Florida a feel unlike we’ve ever seen before. Whereas Harmony Korine lit his Floridian crime film Spring Breakers with neon, here Bay illuminates the sunshine soaked glory of “paradise” and almost makes the city of Miami a character all her own.
Pain and Gain is an unbelievable true story. What these guys do is well documented in a series of Miami newspaper articles from the late 1990s. In fact, the three bodybuilders do much more than is portrayed in the film… which only further causes the jaw to drop that this story is true. The Pain and Gain poster nails it with its American flag behind the three leads... they are simply men on a mission of the American dream.
Of the three leads, another surprise in this movie of big surprises lands. We adore Wahlberg and Mackie's work, but it is Johnson who gives the performance of a lifetime. He presents a character that is so nuanced, with so much guilt about what he is doing, while simultaneously showing us with his actions and emotions, that he also cannot do anything to stop it.
Supporting actors bring their A-game, particularly the on-a-roll Rebel Wilson and Corddry. Both are getting lots of work lately and their performances in Pain and Gain are all you need to see why. Ed Harris shines in a small role of a private detective who Shalhoub hires to bring him justice when the Miami police don’t believe his story. See! Pain and Gain’s story is too good to be true.
And it is also as surprising that this Michael Bay film rises above his earlier work, but also stands all on its own as a triumph of moviemaking. Simply, our Pain and Gain review powerfully states that Bay's film will pump you up.