Five Easy Pieces

“Keep telling me about the good life, Elton, because it makes me puke,” rages Jack Nicholson in one of the defining films of the 1970s, a portrait of American existentialism and untethered machismo that seems even more revelatory now as during its original release. Nicholson is Bobby Dupea, a blue-collar oil rigger in dusty Southern California, drinking whiskey while driving to work and living with his waitress girlfriend (a dazzlingly coiffed Karen Black). An alcohol-soaked lifetime of Patsy Cline and poorly decorated trailer homes stretches before him, but Bobby's not made for that world, or even the world he's actually escaping from: a wealthy family of classical musicians who may be his blood, but, as a trip “home” proves, isn't in his soul. The infamous “chicken salad sandwich” diner scene has made Five Easy Pieces legendary, but it's Nicholson's raw performance as a man willfully out of tune wherever he goes that truly anchors this understated, minor-key masterpiece.

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