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Pain and Gain

Pain and Gain is set in the year 1995, focusing on three members of the “Sun Gym Gang.” Daniel Lugo, as played my Mark Wahlberg, is a fitness trainer at the sun gym in Miami and had already served time in prison. Sick and tired of living large in the gym but small at home, Daniel Lugo decides it is time to live out his own version of the American Dream. He recruits two associates at the gym in the form of Adrain Doorbal, played by Anthony Mackie, and Paul Doyle, played by Dwayne Johnson. The trio decides to kidnap and extort a wealthy and scummy business owner that is a new member of the gym. Eventually the kidnapping turns to an attempted murder, but even after a series of attempts to end the life of the rich man Kershaw, they fail. Kershaw escapes and tells the police everything, but the story is so unbelievable that they do not believe him and do not investigate. This prompts Kershaw to hire a private investigator that initially declines but shortly after accepts. All the members of the gang extinguish their funds in short order and are now willing to commit another kidnaping in order to keep up with their newfound lifestyles. After a poorly executed con-turned-murder, the gang is finally arrested and convicted after a confession from Doyle.

The movie Pain and Gain is an extreme dramatization, bordering on complete fiction, of true events that occurred in the early 1990’s. One of the only seemingly consistent details upon further inspection is the name of Daniel Lugo. He was seemingly the leader and the originator of the plot for the Sun Gym Gang. This extreme dramatization demonstrates the liberties that Hollywood takes in order to make entertainment. Although reporting has the ability to be entertaining, there is still a definitional difference between reports and entertainment. A report has a moral obligation to be as freed from bias as possible, to try and initially observe facts and statistics in a straightforward manner. How those facts and statistics are interpreted is left up to the reporter. For instance, A and B can be true, but A + B might yield different answers to people looking at the problem from different perspectives.

In the case of Michael Bay he seems to completely ignore the algorithm of A + B and instead chooses to take as little facts as possible and embellish the story entirely. One simple example is that the character portrayed by Dwayne Johnson is actually meant to encapsulate three separate characters. That is the most obvious liberty in a series of extremities that make up a Hollywood blockbuster. A writer at puts things into perspective.

“At the opening of Pain & Gain, the new Michael Bay movie starring Mark Wahlberg, we are told that, “unfortunately,” what follows is a true story. It’s meant as a joke, of course, but it calls your attention to the movie’s supposed fidelity to the facts. Later, during an outlandishly gruesome scene, some superimposed text says, “This is still a true story.” During the credits, we get where-are-they-now photos of the principals, reminding us that these are all real people. And the movie’s poster declares flatly, in all caps, “THIS IS A TRUE STORY.”

Is it? By Hollywood standards, perhaps. In late 1994 and early ’95, a crew of thugs led by bodybuilder Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) did kidnap a Miami businessman and get him to sign over all his worldly possessions. What follows in the film more or less adheres to a very rough outline provided by the novella-length, three-part, highly detailed series written by Pete Collins and published in the Miami New Times over a decade ago.” (


Bug focuses on a woman named Agnes. Agnes is living in a rural town, a waitress at a lesbian bar, and seems to have a problem with both alcohol and cocaine. She very quickly falls in love with a drifter who her friend brings over to her house one night. The man shows her kindness simply for the sake of being kind, to which Agnes takes on with first nerves, and then gratitude. This drifter’s name is Peter. Peter is the second main character of the film, and when he is introduced he brings much of the plot. Peter learns that Agnes has a past, consisting of an ex-husband, recently paroled and a lost young son. Agnes opens up about her pain to Peter and the two begin a relationship. Once this relationship is started, Peter breaks down, worrying for Agnes’s safety. As Peter explains, he believes he is a government experiment that has gone AWOL and there are dangerous people looking for him. He believes that his blood is infested with bugs and soon Agnes believes that she is infected as well. The pair’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, feeding into each-others fears. A doctor visits the home toward the end of the movie, claiming to be some sort of psychologist from a ward that Peter had escaped. Agnes does not believe him, and Peter emerges and stabs the man to death. Believing that they both carry the ability to keep producing the governmentally engineered bugs, Agnes and Peter decide to douse themselves with gasoline and set themselves ablaze.

The thrust of Bug’s psychological pull is two-fold; the first being that even though the claims of Peter are outlandish, we as the audience cannot verify that they are in fact false. The second tier that makes the movie so suspenseful is that Agnes completely falls into the same headspace as Peter. This could either be because the things that Peter says are true, or due to her trauma she could be suffering from a shared psychotic disorder. This disposition is generally unknown to the affected person, as they tend to continue in their daily life and function as a normal person would, apart from the delusion that they take on from the other person.

Bug is adapted from the play by Tracy Letts. The movie adaptation stays incredibly true to the stage play, all the way down to the miniscule cast. If you discount the extras at the bar for one scene, the movie is carried entirely by five cast members. This is true to stage play form, which is often carried by very small casts, and even in some instances is entirely monologue. In this particular case, Michael Shannon, the man who plays Peter in the movie, was also the same role in the original cast which premiered in London. Interestingly enough the rehearsals were held in Chicago.

Needless to say, Michael Shannon’s performance is beyond incredible. The depth, dynamic, and intensity he brings to the role are crucial to driving the story, especially considering he was in most of the movie. Michael’s stage background and familiarity with the story is obvious with his shining performance.

“Of course, getting the actor cast in the movie was a challenge, but Letts explained how Friedkin championed for him.

“Billy fought really hard for him,” Letts said. “The people who were financing the film had no interest in using Mike, but Billy just insisted. He had seen Mike do the play live, he knew how powerful Mike was in the role, and he knew the role was written for Mike. And Billy actually had a lot of experience casting a lot of unknowns in movies: William L. Petersen in ‘To Live and Die in LA’ was his first big break, Linda Blair and Jason Miller in ‘The Exorcist.” I’m really glad he did (fight for Mike) because among the many pleasures of the film is the fact that Mike’s extraordinary stage performance was preserved on film. The freak out scene where he’s flopping and having a seizure on the bed, he used to do that on stage eight times a week.”” (

Bug is a brilliant film that leaves you confused as to what is reality and what is delusion. It confuses the viewer in the best way possible as to whether psychosis drives delusion or if there is strong validity to conspiracy.