Celebrated director Michael Bay doesn’t stand out for realism. It’s probably why he decided to remind people severally that his 2013 flick Pain and Gain is based on a true story.
Pain and Gain stars Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne Johnson as three steroid-filled gym nuts looking to cash in on a kidnapping scheme. Their target is a wealthy businessman named Victor Kershaw, who endures one month of torture at the hands of the kidnappers.
After conning Victor into signing off all his wealth, the strong men attempt to kill Kershaw. Their comical attempt fails and directly leads to their capture and conviction.
Pain and Gain is loosely based on Marc Schiller’s kidnapping and attempted murder
Pain and Gain is loosely based on the real-life kidnapping of Marc Schiller by a crew of bodybuilders led by Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg). Michael Bay based the script on a three-part series written by Pete Collin for the Miami New Times.
Despite Michael Bay’s assertion that Pain and Gain tells a true story, it’s evident that he took plenty of creative liberties when creating the film.
For instance, Mark portrays Daniel Lugo as a tough character, which is inaccurate, according to Mark Schiller. Schiller told The Guardian that Lugo was shrewd and calculating but not tough. He referred to Lugo as a ‘lethal manipulator’ rather than a dumb brute.
“He almost had a neon sign on his forehead that said: ‘Don’t Trust Me,’” Schiller said. “He was a conman and that is all he knew. After my kidnapping, in the warehouse, he would go into wild mood swings, one minute a nice guy and the next a raving lunatic. You never knew which Lugo you were dealing with.”
Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), depicted as Lugo’s loyal yet timid sidekick, was anything but. Doorbal was a crude character who enjoyed violence and regularly clashed with Lugo. “The real Doorbal was a loud sadist that did not like being pushed around by Lugo,” Schiller added. Schiller claims that Adrian twice volunteered to kill him.
Dwayne Johnson portrays a combination of three characters: Carl Weekes, Jorge Delgado, and Mario Sanchez. The three played various roles in the planning and execution of Schiller’s kidnapping.
Pain and Gain fails in depicting the characters because the production team refused to contact the one person whose kidnapping dominates the film: Mark Schiller.
To its credit, Pain and Gain portrays the kidnapping and arrest of the gangsters reasonably accurately. They held their victim for roughly a month and messed up his execution. Their attempts at burning and running over Schiller failed miserably.
Schiller told The Guardian that police initially dismissed his story because it sounded ridiculous. “The tale I presented to the Miami police seemed so fantastical to them that it was dismissed out of hand as an ‘Academy-award-winning performance and story,” he said.
Like in real life, authorities arrested the gang after they kidnapped and killed millionaire Frank Giga and his girlfriend, Krisztina Furton.
Schiller sued Pain and Gain for falsely portraying him in the film
Pain and Gain depicts Marc Schiller’s abduction and torture, but the name Marc Schiller doesn’t appear in the film: Viktor Kershaw appears in his place.
“They chose to portray me as a bad person and my assailants as nice guys who were just bumbling fools,” Schiller told The New York Post. “The movie made a mockery of me and of the pain and suffering that I had endured. The horrible person on the screen had no resemblance to who I was.”
Schiller told The Guardian that the film tried to garner sympathy for the assailants, who he described as ‘animals and sociopaths.’ In the movie, Victor Kershaw is an arrogant man who brags about his criminal exploits. Schiller claimed that he’s never been like Kershaw.
Mark told The Guardian that Pain and Gain failed to bring out the torture he underwent accurately. The horrors he endured pale in comparison to what the audience saw in Pain and Gain, Schiller claims. He said:
“I’ve ended up calling it Hotel Hell. They tasered me, they punched me, they pistol-whipped and burned me with a lighter. They played Russian roulette against my temple and performed mock executions. I was blindfolded throughout.”
The thugs tortured Mark psychologically by threatening his wife and children. Hugo and his accomplices then conned him into signing off his wealth.
Discontent and disgusted with his portrayal in the film, Mark sued the filmmakers for marketing Pain and Gain as a ‘true story.’ Schiller’s lawyer, Holly Ostrov-Ronai, claimed that the disclaimer at the end of the credits doesn’t negate the alleged deception by the filmmakers. The disclaimer reads:
“Some names have been changed and certain characters, events and dialogue are fictionalized for the purposes of dramatization.”