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Five Easy Pieces

While Jack Nicholson grabbed the attention of film fans with his quirky performance as a boozy ACLU lawyer in the 1969 Easy Rider, it was 1970's Five Easy Pieces that first offered him a serious leading role and helped solidify his undeniable screen talent. Nicholson stars as Robert Dupea, a wandering spirit from a talented and affluent Pacific Northwest family who has inexplicably rejected the many benefits of his upbringing, including his skill as a virtuoso pianist. A young man given to fitful, angry outbursts, he labors as an ordinary oil worker in Texas, drinking beer with his buddies at the bowling alley and dating simple-minded Rayette (Karen Black), who cannot fathom her grumpy boyfriend any more than he can understand her. But when Robert receives word that his father has suffered a stroke, he sets out for his family's Puget Sound estate with Rayette, perhaps unaware of his motivations but determined to find some sort of resolution with his past. In the genre of "angry young man" films, Five Easy Pieces is one of the better ones, although it lacks much of the wit of Mike Nichols' The Graduate. Nicholson manages to anchor a story that alternates between stillness and dramatic surges — the scene where he tries to order a side of toast in a diner has become legendary. By comparison, many of the other performances in the film simply act as foils, while Black (like Nicholson, also an Easy Rider alum) is the only member of the ensemble besides Nicholson who forms a creative, compelling persona. Still, despite a few slow points, Nicholson gives a better performance in Five Easy Pieces than he has in any of his recent films, and the clever, understated ending is a gem. Directed by Bob Rafelson. Good widescreen transfer from a very good source print, DD 2.0, cast notes, trailer for As Good As It Gets. Keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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