‘Lawless’ is a combination of western and gangster movies, which worked for me as it really captures the qualities of these two genres in an interesting mix. To be clear it is not fully either or, so don’t go expecting a shoot out in every scene, as the drama is used as a break pedal. The film is based on Matt Bondurant’s fictionalized account of his family’s history, led by the Boundurant Brothers; titled ‘The Wettest County in the World’. The Australian duo, director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave picked up the story. They combined visceral violence with beauty, melancholy and a sort of innocence that the film portrays of Virginia during the depression and prohibition era in the 20’s and 30’s. The film has its flaws, but it’s already emanating some Oscar buzz, more than anything for the big names in it as well as its production quality.
The tale is narrated by Jack (Shia LaBeaouf) the youngest and most sensitive of the Bondurant brothers also composed of Howard (Jason Clarke) the oldest of the three, scarred after surviving the Great War; and Forrest (Tom Hardy) who almost died from the Spanish Flu which killed their parents and made him the strongest one; converting him into both their mother and father. The brothers run a successful business selling moonshine; but corrupt Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is about to stop Franklin County’s bootlegging days. The catch is that the brothers won’t back down or bow to anyone.
LaBeauof is basically the main character and I have a new found respect for him, although his behavior is more foolish than anything, he delivers a wonderful performance portraying the process of a boy growing up, who’s trying to find his place. Hardy’s performance comes from his actions more than anything, as his character is a man of few words and most of his dialogue is grunts; despite this Hardy shows his acting skills as one of the most powerful characters of the film. Pearce’s character is so easy to hate because you can clearly see Pearce’s worth as an actor in him, he’s a sneaky, slimy villain from the way he looks to the way he behaves. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Oscar nominations from here, especially for Hardy and Pearce.
It was disappointing to see Gary Oldman, who portrays the character of Floyd Banner- a ruthless big city gangster that Jack idolizes, be on screen for such a short amount of time. Here he makes one of the best movie entrances I’ve experienced. I also would have liked some more character development on Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) as she’s the strongest female character, which was very refreshing to see in this type of film. The legend of invincibility that the film deals with changes the tone of the movie, which although can be townsfolk tales it almost made me feel like it was uncharacteristic to the film. Also, the time scale of the film seems off at times, as it’s hard to tell how much time has passed in some scenes. Lasty, although the dialogue in the film is not very profound, it is a little hard to understand some characters in it; but I kind of expected that knowing we would be hearing southern accents.
My favorite things about the film: the tone and beauty of the colors and landscapes, the rawness of some of its characters that stayed true to the nature of the south such as Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan), and the way the story has a Robin Hood feel to it where fighting against the government is the only way to support their families and communities. Movies based on real life usually contain all the elements to make it successful and in this one I think the director did a great job in staying true to the times and the story without forgetting what he wanted to illustrate. If you like to see stories that contain a little bit of history, mixed in with some classic entertaining genres, accompanied by some of the best actors of today; then you won’t be disappointed with this one.