Lawless: John Hilcoat reteams with his Proposition screenwriter Nick Cave (of Bad Seeds fame) for this adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s historical novel The Wettest County in the World which follows his Prohibition-era ancestors as they deal with government interference into their lucrative moonshine business. Hilcoat has proven himself a very good director, making his name with the lyrical and savage Australian Western The Proposition and his very fine adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road and he’s sure to turn in a fine film with collaborators as strong as Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Gary Oldman but there are two, possible serious problems with this film. The first is the casting of Transformers star Shia LaBeouf as the star of the piece and secondly the deeper problem inherent in the film’s subject matter.
LaBeouf, who became rich and famous by running from massive transforming robots, now faces the much more difficult challenge of transitioning into a credible adult actor. It’ll be an especially hard journey for an actor who first came to prominence as a fast talking twerp in Disney’s Even Stevens TV series and not terrible adaptation of Louis Sachar’s Holes. After two rightly left-on-the-editing-room performances as sidekicks to Will Smith and Keanu Reeves, LaBeouf split his time between lifeless PG-13 thrillers like Distubia, Eagle Eye and the aforementioned robots in disguises trilogy. In 2006, LaBeouf made tentative steps toward cinematic adult in Dino Montiel’s rambling Scorsese ripping A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints with predictably middling results which were followed by him being the worst parts of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Steven Spielberg’s shockingly bad Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Now LaBeouf has apparently committed himself to making non studio pictures like Lawless and Lars von Trier’s unsimulated sex drama Nymphomaniac. While it does show some conviction of LaBeouf’s part to take on serious work, his proven lack of acting ability suggests that he’ll, at best, be the homeless man’s Leonardo DiCaprio.
Great directors have proven time and time again that having a less than ideal leading man doesn’t necessary lead to a bad film (Inception, Zodiac), but the LaBeouf issue becomes potentially more damaging which considering the more troubling aspects of the films subject matter. Not the criminality as such since exploring the darker side of American history has made for some of the greatest films in the history of the medium but rather the nature of the men committing the crimes; Southern outlaws out to make as much money as possible with a bullet for anyone who stands in their way. This makes the protagonists of the film of a kind with Rhett Butler, Jesse James, and Malcolm Reynolds, that is to say proud southern men who battle against the perceived evils of centralization and intentional or not are champions of a society that was built on slavery. Now, having not seen Lawless or read Bondurant’s book, it’s impossible to state definitively how Hilcoat deals with the elephant in the room, but given the film’s sex and danger filled trailers it’s not hard to imagine this being a film being somewhat in awe of hard, proud men and the hard, proud way in which they lived their lives.
It’s not impossible to make a tried and true Rebel sympathetic and relatable (Walton Goggins’s devastating Shane Verndell) and it’s not impossible to reveal the vulnerable human side to a megalomaniac Hollywood star (Tom Cruise in Magnolia) but it’d be damn near impossible to both in one film. Regardless, it’ll be worth it see new Hilcoat devastated vistas and hear Cave’s brutalist poetry and to watch Tom Hardy’s eyes right before he rips a man apart. Seeing whether or not it’ll be best of the year or most ambitious failure material is what makes going to the movies so exciting. Also starring Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke and Dane DeHaan.
Fun fact: Nick Cave does the film’s score along with fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis.
The Possession: From Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Productions, comes this low budget horror film about a divorced parents (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick) who have to deal with their daughter’s (Natasha Calis) possession by a Dybbuk. While its certainly different to see one of these religious horror movies with a Jewish focus as opposed to a Catholic one, Ghost House has yet to produce a movie worth consideration other than the Raimi directed Drag Me to Hell. It’s certainly possible that this Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch) directed film will be effectively chilling and successful reverse the trend of low budget horror movies that ape Paranormal Activity’s surveillance camera aesthetic but it’ll probably end up being a moderately successful film that no one will be able to describe properly only days after watching it. Also starring Grant Show, Madison Davenport, and Rob LaBelle.
Fun fact: Recording artist Matisyahu has a role in the film.
Mario McKellop irregularly blogs at A Polemic Killer Room.