Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Bob Rafelson died this summer on July 23. His brilliant, (mostly independent) film career produced several masterpieces. Five Easy Pieces, based on a story he cowrote with Carole Eastman, is semi-autobiographical. This was his first feature film. The lead character (Robert) is played by Jack Nicholson in a searing, edgy performance. Robert was an accomplished concert pianist who abandoned the career for a job as an oil rigger off the coast of California. He has a girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black in an Oscar-nominated performance) who is a waitress in a diner. When Robert gets word his dad’s health has deteriorated—his father is paralyzed—they set off on a road trip back home for a reconciliation. Maybe. En route, they pick up two bizarre, hippie hitch-hikers and then stop at a roadside café for a meal. Robert’s character wants breakfast with toast but his stubborn waitress says he can only “order from the menu without substitutions.” What ensues is a bravura scene wherein Nicholson and the waitress have a testy exchange over Robert ordering a toasted egg-salad sandwich, but hold all the ingredients except the toast. It is a master lesson in focused energy acting.