Lawless

  • Year:2012
  • Rating:MA
  • Director:John Hillcoat
  • Cast:Jessica Chastain, Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska
  • Release Date:October 11, 2012
  • Distributor:Roadshow
  • Running time:116 minutes
  • Film Worth:$18.50
  • FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

This Prohibition-era crime drama boasts bravura performances, unforgettable characters, moments of shocking violence, and enough in-your-face entertainment for three films.

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In his 2005 “kangaroo western” masterpiece, The Proposition, Australian director, John Hillcoat, showcased an alarming facility for combining the sacred and the profane, melding together images of lyrical beauty and extreme brutality. While his latest film, Lawless, doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of that extraordinary work, it more than backs up (as does Hillcoat’s 2009 effort, The Road) the director’s growing reputation as one of the most daring and uncompromising filmmakers on the international scene. Echoing everything from The Godfather to Bonnie And Clyde, Lawless is a classic piece of rootsy, bloodstained Americana, boasting stylistic and thematic flourishes that only an outsider’s eye could provide.

It’s the Prohibition-era Deep South, and in Franklin County, the Bondurant Brothers – quiet but intimidating Forrest (Tom Hardy); heavy drinking wild man, Howard (Jason Clarke); and the eager but callow Jack (Shia LaBeouf) – rule the moonshine trade. But when Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) arrives in town to clean things up, their tight but easy grip on the quietly prosperous family business is put in jeopardy. When the enterprising Jack then instigates a new partnership with Chicago mob boss, Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), an already rumbling powder keg of a situation threatens to blow sky high.

Expertly adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel, The Wettest County In The World (based on the life stories of his own ancestors), by Nick Cave (who also provides the evocative score), Lawless is a thundering slab of entertainment, rife with explosive violence and rich characterisation. The performances are uniformly excellent: as the hulking but hilariously socially awkward Forrest, Tom Hardy is like a big bear (complete with chuckle-inducing grunts and growls) – slow and quiet until provoked; Shia LaBeouf continues to amusingly and publicly atone for Transformers with a committed and energetic turn; Jason Clarke is strange and unpredictable as the largely wordless Howard; Gary Oldman gives his two scenes the weight of ten; and Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are superb as the two very different women who bewitch, respectively, Forrest and Jack.

There are, however, two stand-alone scene stealers. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) provides the film’s warmest beats as Cricket, Jack’s rickets-afflicted best friend and moonshine-making mastermind, while Guy Pearce delivers the darkest notes as Special Deputy Charlie Rakes. With his big city disdain for the “hicks” that surround him, and perfumed, lilac-gloved perversity, Rakes is a sadistic, weirdo lawman that wouldn’t feel out of place in a David Lynch film. Though a bells-and-whistles type character anyway, Guy Pearce actually takes it to the next level with his wildly imaginative performance, which, in a just world, would see him honoured with an Oscar nomination.

While not for the faint hearted (throats are slit, bashings are administered, and one unfortunate is even tarred-and-feathered), Lawless is technically top-notch and compelling from go-to-whoa. Its rich tale of brothers bonded by blood reaches near mythological proportions; its probing questions about the nature of justice shudder and resonate with maximum force; and its poetically rendered images of carnage will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. Like a bolt of moonshine liquor (presumably), Lawless goes down hard, but leaves you feeling warm and satisfied afterwards.   

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