'Five Easy Pieces' was previously available in 'America Lost and Found: The BBS Story', a seven-disc set the Criterion Collection released in 2010. It is now available as a standalone release. The audio and supplements portions are taken from Drew Taylor's review.
Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson frequently worked together over the course of their careers. After co-writing the screenplay with the Monkees for their surreal movie 'Head', and Nicholson co-starring in the Rafelson-produced 'Easy Rider', Rafelson directed Nicholson in five movies with 'Five Easy Pieces' being the first, not counting Nicholson's very brief cameo in 'Head'.
Nicholson plays Bobby Dupea, a California oilrig worker in the midst of an existential crisis. He's unhappy with his job and his girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black), who has unrealistic dreams of being a country singer. Although she comes off dumb, in part because Bobby reacts with great frustration towards her, she is quite cunning and manipulative. Even though Bobby twice refuses to say he loves her, she aims to keep him around. This occurs subtlety, when she plays Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man," and overtly by threatening to kill herself if he leaves and revealing she's pregnant, but it's never confirmed.
Bobby lives a typical blue-collar life. He drinks beers, picks up Rayette from her waitress job, and they go bowling with friends. Distracting himself from dealing with his problems, he fools around on Rayette, who knows what he's up to when he doesn’t come home at night. It soon becomes apparent things might not be as they appear when Bobby jumps into the back of a truck while stuck in freeway traffic and plays Chopin's "Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49" on a piano.
It turns out Bobby is from a family of classical musicians, and he ran away from that life. After seeing his sister Tita recording in Hollywood, he learns his father has had two strokes and is in questionable health. He and Rayette drive to Washington and along the way they pick up a couple of women who got into a car wreck. One of them is Palm (Helena Kallianiotes in a very funny performance as she rails against everything), who is leading her friend to Alaska to get away from the filth she sees everywhere. Palm, like Bobby, thinks running away can solve problems.
Bobby Dupea is a very compelling character because he is his own worst enemy due to the choices he makes. He attempts to apologize for going his own way to his catatonic father, almost like confessing to an unresponsive god. However, running seems to be all Bobby wants to try. He is certainly against analyzing the problem as suggested by his angry response at the female intellectual who was a friend of his brother. At the end, he hands over his wallet to Rayette at a gas stop, symbolically handing over his identity, but what that action means is soon revealed.
'Five Easy Pieces' is a compelling character study that shows the influence of European cinema on New Hollywood filmmakers. There's a classic scene where Booby attempts to order toast but the waitress says the restaurant doesn’t allow substitutions. He comes up with a plan but ends up angering the waitress in the process. Palm thinks what he did was fantastic but in the end he outsmarted himself. Jack Nicholson made a career out of playing defiant characters like Bobby and received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor with this performance. It's well worth checking out
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Five Easy Pieces' (#546 in The Criterion Collection) is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a foldout booklet containing "The Solitude," an essay by writer/filmmaker Kent Jones.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at the film's original aspect of 1.85:1
"Supervised by director of photography Laszlo Kovacs, this new high-definition digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Northlight 2 Scanner from the original camera negative and the black-and-white separation masters," according to the information in the booklet.
Colors are natural, strong hues. There's a reddish-orange metal wheel at on an oil rig that pops off the screen as does Tita's red top and the pink fixtures at the bowling alley. The greens of the foliage in Washington around Bobby's home are also vibrant.
Blacks are inky, and there a solid contrast throughout. One shot that demonstrates the quality of the contrast is when Bobby takes his father out to talk to him. There's dark gray clouds at the top of the frame with a fragment of bright sunlight peeking through and lush green grass at the bottom.
The details are fine and distinct, revealing the fine texture on the Duprea glassware and the rough marks on Rayette's apartment walls. The film grain looks natural most of the time and it increases in the last shot of Bobby playing in the truck as it drives off the freeway.
'Five Easy Pieces' has a single option: an English LPCM 1.0 job. With optional English SDH subtitles. And you know what? It sounds pretty great. Dialogue rules the day here and everything sounds crisp, clear, and easy to understand. There are moments when the sound field opens up a bit, and there aren’t any glitchy technical issues. So all in all, a solid job. From the booklet: "The monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic 3-track masters."
While I'd recommend buying 'America Lost and Found: The BBS Story' if it's in your budget, 'Five Easy Pieces' is worth adding to the collection, especially for the Nicholson fan. Criterion did a great job with the high-def presentation and some of the extras will have you curious about the rest of BBS' output.