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The Essentials: Five Easy Pieces (1970)

A dropout from upper-class America picks up work along the way on oil rigs when his life isn't spent in a squalid succession of bars, motels, and other points of interest.
(R, 98 min.)

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Sunday, August 15, 2021

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Monday, August 16, 2021

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The Essentials: New Hollywood
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Following Jack Nicholson’s breakout supporting turn in Easy Rider, director Bob Rafelson devised a powerful leading role for the new star in the searing character study Five Easy Pieces. Nicholson plays the now iconic cad Bobby Dupea, a shiftless thirtysomething oil rigger and former piano prodigy immune to any sense of responsibility, who returns to his upper-middle-class childhood home, blue-collar girlfriend (Karen Black, in an Oscar-nominated role) in tow, to see his estranged, ailing father. Moving in its simplicity and gritty in its textures, Five Easy Pieces is a lasting example of early 1970s American alienation.
[Criterion]

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Billy Green Bush
Director: Bob Rafelson
Genre: Drama

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"A masterpiece of heartbreaking intensity."

— Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"It’s a great work of the Discover America Seventies."

— Nick Pinkerton, Village Voice

"This superbly composed film comes as close to perfection as it gets."

— Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

"Deceptively simple, Pieces is one of the most complex pictures of the 1970s."

— TV Guide

"If the function of art is to help an audience feel less alone, then Five Easy Pieces succeeds beautifully."

— Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle

"Five Easy Pieces is the very definition of a character study, and one of the best American cinema has produced."

— Noel Murray, The Dissolve

"It’s a film of stark, superbly judged and beautifully sustained contrasts, the soundtrack hopping confidently from Tammy Wynette to Chopin as Bobby and his waitress girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) travel from the lusty, sun-baked south to the cerebral, rainswept north to pay final respects to Bobby’s dying father."

— Tom Huddleston, Time Out

"What is more striking about the film is that its secondary characters are also real. The acting appears to be non-acting. . . . Karen Black is a letter-perfect Rayette, and Lois Smith, as Robert's sister, gives the most sensitive small performance in the film. (Jack) Nicholson makes it all go. He proves he is more than a character actor with many scenes, especially the confrontation with his father."

— Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune