Five Easy Pieces Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: One Easy Role to Nicholson's Stardom

Nicholson breaks out in this early headlining role.
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A year removed from his breakout supporting turn in Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson moved to headliner status in this 1970 character study. Filmed during a time when character studies weren’t exactly prevalent in Hollywood, director Bob Rafelson’s film helped to lead a shift in the industry that paved the way for subsequent ‘70s greats. That’s not to say it holds up well, as it now seems to be a dated relic of a bygone era.

Nicholson’s character Bobby Dupea is introduced as a lackadaisical oil-field worker, content to toil away in his job during the day and blow his pay on gambling and booze at night. He’s got a simple-minded girlfriend (Karen Black), but otherwise very little responsibility. When he gets a fateful call that he’s needed back at his family home to see his ailing father, it’s slowly revealed that he’s been deceiving everyone including himself, as he actually hails from upper-middle-class wealth and was well known as a piano prodigy. It’s never really explained why he ran from his cozy station in life, but Nicholson milks the drama to produce a memorable, class-conflicted character.

The picture quality is superb on Blu-ray, with spotless and vibrant images that were scanned in 4K resolution directly from the original camera negative and the black-and-white separation masters. Only minor film grain is noticeable, well below what one would normally expect of films of that era. The monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic 3-track masters, and while it’s spotlessly clean, it’s also largely unremarkable due to the mostly conversational nature of the work.

Bonus features include audio commentary by Bob Rafelson and interior designer Toby Rafelson, a short 2009 piece featuring Rafelson, a documentary about Rafelson's film company BBS Productions featuring a film critic and a historian, audio excerpts from an 1976 AFI interview with Rafelson, and the best one: BBStory, a detailed 2009 documentary about BBS including interviews with Rafelson, Nicholson, Black, Ellen Burstyn, as well as directors Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom. While the bonus features lean more heavily toward exploring the legacy of BBS as a whole rather than the film on its own, there’s still a decent amount of anecdotal material about the film to satisfy viewers looking to expand their knowledge.

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