Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Billy Green Bush, Fannie Flagg, Sally Struthers, Marlena MacGuire, Richard Stahl, Lois Smith, Helena Kallianiotes, Toni Basil, Lorna Thayer, Susan Anspach, Ralph Waite, William Challee, John P. Ryan
Written by: Adrien Joyce (a.k.a. Carole Eastman), based on a story by Joyce, Rafelson
Directed by: Bob Rafelson
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/11/1970

Five Easy Pieces (1970)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Piano Bars

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After a shaky start in "B" pictures Jack Nichoslon arrived as one of our greatest and most instinctive actors, with a reservoir of charisma to boot.

In Five Easy Pieces (1970) he stars as Robert Dupea, a former concert pianist turned oil-rig worker, having completely lost hope, faith, or both. He lives a kind of half-life, dating a not-too-bright waitress (Karen Black) who fancies herself the next Tammy Wynette. He drifts, drinking too much beer, bowling, working among the dust and grime and facing little catastrophes like a pregnant girlfriend and a dying father.

Returning home gives him another taste of what might have been, but -- as directed by Bob Rafelson and written by Adrien Joyce (really Carole Eastman) -- the film doesn't care if Dupea finds himself again. Rather, it's interested in the notion of passing time and the roads not taken.

In one great scene, during a traffic jam, Dupea mocks his own past by jumping in the back of a truck and playing a strapped-down piano. When traffic begins to move again, he remains, disappearing into the haze.

Rafelson never made another film as good (though some might make a case for The King of Marvin Gardens) and it hasn't aged as well as some of its 1970s counterparts, but it's still a heartbreaking film and a minor classic.

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