The gangster film, ‘Lawless’ is an end-of-summer sleeper. Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) has crafted a dark and bloody depiction of the legendary Bondurant brothers – a trio that controlled the lucrative bootlegging distilleries during the Prohibition-era. ‘Lawless’ is based on true events in a novel titled, ‘The Wettest County in the World,’ by Matt Bondurant. The story is set in the picturesque Appalachia Mountains – Franklin County, Virginia to be exact. The screenplay was written by 80s rocker Nick Cave. Cave is no stranger to the literary world and has authored a handful of novels. You can tell from this script that he knows how to build a story to a dramatic crescendo.
The stellar cast is impressive. It is the performances that make this film so engaging. The bootlegging operation is led by patriarch Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy). Hardy played the villain Bane in this summer’s comic book hit ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ I have new admiration for the actor. His latest role is credible as the calm older brother. He uses violence only when necessary by taking out some brass knuckles to end any disagreements quickly. The middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke) is the muscle of the family who tends to dabble in the family’s hooch a bit too often. The youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the ambitious entrepreneur of the family that sees the gangster lifestyle as glamorous. It is undoubtedly LaBeouf’s best performance of his career.
The story takes place during the 1930’s Prohibition. Forrest is used to paying off local authorities with a few jars of moonshine. Business as usual changes with the arrival of Chicago henchman Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) who wants a piece of the action. When Forrest refuses to play by Rakes’ rules, things turn violent. Pearce is ruthless in his quest to take control of the bootlegging business. It is a haunting performance by Pearce. There is a gruesome scene where Forrest gets his throat slashed with a knife. The Bondurant brothers are tough to kill. He holds his throat closed so he doesn’t bleed to death. It is the most riveting scene in the movie. As Forrest recovers from his wounds, younger brother Jack takes on a more active role in the family business. It is reminiscent of the Corleone family in ‘The Godfather.’
What would a film be without female love interests? The two supporting actresses are two of my favorites. Maggie (Jessica Chastain) mysteriously arrives from Chicago. She is a dancer that escapes to the isolated backwoods of Virginia to start a new life. She becomes smitten with Forrest and gets tangled into the family feud. Chastain is an amazing actress who had stellar performances in last year’s Terrence Malick film, ‘The Tree of Life’ and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the highly-acclaimed drama, ‘The Help.’ Meanwhile Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), who is the preacher’s daughter, has caught the eye of Jack. The banter between these two young actors is fun to watch and a nice break from the gruesome side of the story. Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right, Jane Eyre) at only 22 years of age continues to blow me away with her performances. She will be on the podium one day to collect an Oscar – mark my words.
Director John Hillcoat started his career making music videos for new wave bands such as Depeche Mode and Siouxsie & The Banshees. Quite a few successful directors also started out making music videos for MTV. Kudos must also be given to the cinematography of Benoit Delhomme. My only complaint of the film is that Gary Oldman’s gangster character, Floyd Banner is not in more scenes. Cave has crafted a screenplay that builds the tension to its epic climax. Check out the official ‘Lawless’ trailer http://youtu.be/b2pjH_dQQDg.