'Pain & Gain' Pumps Up Curdled Take on American Dream

'Pain & Gain' Pumps Up Curdled Take on American Dream

Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness would have little to say to the protagonists in Pain & Gain.

Both movies are based on true tales, but Smith’s film showcases the hard work, determination and glory of the American dream.

Pain & Gain illustrates the opposite, reminding us that shortcuts to prosperity rarely lead to happiness–no matter how it’s spelled.

Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie star as a trio of knuckleheaded gym rats who plot to kidnap a wealthy immigrant and steal all of his assets. It’s a shocking tale that would leave audiences shaking their heads in disbelief had the bullet points not stuck so closely to the real tragedy in play.

it’s an odd vehicle for director Michael Bay, known not just for his grandiose blockbusters but his generally pro-American themes (Pearl HarborTransformers).

Movie goers may lap up Pain & Gain regardless of its bleak assessment of life in ’90s America, but the following films offer a more uplifting portrait of the American dream:

  • Rocky: The tale of a no-name boxer who gets a shot at the heavyweight champ may be the most iconic American dream feature to date. What makes the tale so sweet is how the behind-the-scenes story mirrors the big screen tale. Relative unknown Sylvester Stallone fought–and fought–to star in the film while the studio preferred to go with a “name” actor. Stallone stuck to his principles, and a movie star was born.
  • Flash of Genius: This underlooked gem shows the glory of the American dream as well as the obstacles. Greg Kinnear plays an innovator who invents an intermittent windshield wiper only to duke it out with Ford Motor Company over the rights to the device.
  • Seabiscuit: The film’s star is a horse, of course, but this tale of a Depression-era horse bucking the odds to become a sensation provides a fitting metaphor for the opportunity rampant in the U.S. no matter the economy.