The flaws of "Five Easy Pieces," an acutely self-conscious 1970 road picture, grow more obvious with every passing year. But so does its passionate eloquence. You shouldn't miss the chance to see it in a restored print on the big screen at the Charles (Saturday at noon, Monday at 7 p.m.).
Jack Nicholson gave his breakthrough lead performance as the cultivated roughneck Bobby Dupea. He's working on an oil rig in Southern California and living with a waitress (Karen Black), but he has so many pockets of frustrated energy that he's ready to bolt almost from the get-go. Before long, at the behest of his sister (Lois Smith), he travels to the Pacific Northwest to visit his ailing father—the patriarch of a family of classical musicians.
The movie overstates the insularity of both trailer parks and high-culture retreats, but Nicholson fuses it all with his electric awareness—no one has better captured alienation in action. The director, Bob Rafelson, and the writer, Carole Eastman, come up with memorable bits for the entire cast, and the movie's famous, influential set pieces—Bobby walking out of his car in a traffic jam or trying to order toast at a diner with a "no substitutions" policy—have lost none of their humor or power.
Nicholson and Rafelson teamed up again for 1972's "The King of Marvin Gardens," 1981's "The Postman Always Rings Twice," 1992's "Man Trouble" and 1997's "Blood And Wine" (that's Nicholson in a scene from that movie, with Jennifer Lopez, above). But their first collaboration is by far their richest, most energetic and enduring accomplishment. And if you see it at noon tomorrow at the Charles, you can beat the heat all day by following it with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Kids Are All Right."
Nicholson's career has registered as many ups and downs as a seismograph on a fault line. Every time he appears to succumb to terminal overacting, he comes back with a dynamite turn in unexpected circumstances, like his romantic-comedy tour de force in 2003's "Something's Gotta Give." What are your favorite Nicholson performances?