Five Easy Pieces at Film Forum


Jack Nicholson—33, hair thinning, a Hollywood scenester who, by 1970, had seemingly missed his shot at being a star—became just that as Bobby Dupea, a Bakersfield oil-rig hand who spends free nights fooling around on his hash-house waitress girlfriend (Karen Black). Happier bowling a strike than playing Chopin, Bobby is a stalled Salingeresque prodigy who can do both. Family matters bring him back to the boyhood home, on an island in Washington State, where the walls—a gallery of so-serious WASPs brooding in black-and-white—show the family pretensions he has disappointed. Equally uncomfortable in Buck Owens denim and Bergman turtleneck, Bobby relaxes his sneer for the “cracker assholes” he’s been slumming with only to lash out at “pompous celibates” like the caricatured intellectuals his brother hosts (at least the crackers can have an honest good time). It was Easy Rider‘s success that greenlit Five Easy Pieces—but director Bob Rafelson and screenwriter Carole Eastman’s film is totally human, trading Rider‘s counterculture mytho-poetics for a study in the charisma of disdain (which Nicholson personifies) and how rebellion and loutishness are often indistinguishable (ditto), never excusing the pain Bobby causes. Set against the stillness of cinematographer László Kovács’s luminous landscapes, now restored for the film’s 40th anniversary, it’s a great work of the Discover America Seventies.