Blu-Ray Review: Five Easy Pieces

During the 1970s, there were a number of great American actors who both captivated cinema audiences and won a string of awards. Jack Nicholson was up there at, or near, the top. There are few who could claim to have had a stronger decade than the New Jerseyan. The likes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown and The Passenger have gone down in film history.  There were others, including The Last Detail and Carnal Knowledge, which deserve much more recognition. Five Easy Pieces also neatly fits into that category.

Despite being a talented musician from an upper-class family from Washington, Bobby Dupea (Nicholson) works on an oil field in southern California. Living with his girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black), who’s a waitress with dreams of becoming a country music singer, and hanging out with workmate and friend Elton (Billy Green Bush), Bob adopts the outlook and the stereotypes of a blue-collar worker. After discovering his estranged father has suffered two strokes, he returns home to confront his past.

Five Easy Pieces charts the journey of a broken anti-hero as he tries to come to terms with who he really is and the person he’s become. In what was probably Nicholson’s biggest leading role at the time, he impresses as a damaged man trying to find his place in the world. His anguish is drawn out by Bob Rafelson’s taut direction and Carole Eastman’s distinctive writing. Whilst it has its flaws, Five Easy Pieces is a courageous character study and an acting masterclass.

Special features:

  • Restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised by director of photography László Kovács, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary by director Bob Rafelson and interior designer Toby Rafelson
  • Soul Searching in “Five Easy Pieces,” a 2009 video piece featuring Rafelson
  • BBStory, a 2009 documentary about the legendary film company BBS Productions, with Rafelson; actors Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and Ellen Burstyn; filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom; and others
  • Documentary from 2009 about BBS featuring critic David Thomson and historian Douglas Brinkley
  • Audio excerpts from a 1976 AFI interview with Rafelson
  • Trailers and teasers
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Kent Jones

Five Easy Pieces is released on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures UK as part of the Criterion Collection on 16 November.

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