September 26, 2012
Advertised as a testosterone-filled "boys" film; Lawless was the biggest surprise of 2012.
Every now and again; something takes you completely by surprise. Possibly a little heard of film that sweeps you off your feet, or highly anticipated movie that just lacks an appeal. John Hillcoat’s Lawless fits into the latter category. Put off by Shia LaBeouf’s presence and mediocre marketing; I was less than convinced. Yet Lawless blew me away, resulting in one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences of 2012 so far.
Set in Prohibition-era Virginia, Lawless tells the true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers; three bootlegging siblings who ran a successful, if illegal, moonshine business. When crooked outsider Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) learns of their activities; he demands they either cease trading, or that he takes a share of the profits. United against Rakes and the mob, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (LaBeouf) rebel against the law to prove what is right; testing friendship, loyalty and the strength their brotherly bond more than they ever expected.
I have been struggling to find fault with Lawless. The script, direction and score are all beautiful. It played with my feelings, unashamedly; resulting in audible chuckles, gasps and sobs from a normally emotionally restrained cinephile. If I were to force myself to name one bad thing about my first Hillcoat experience it is that Lawless is largely a lads affair. Integral to the plot, waitress Maggie (Jessica Chastain) and preacher’s daughter Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) deserve much bigger parts than their roles allow. A story about three brothers; my gripe is merely a slight niggle that is easily forgotten when the violence and costumes come back into play.
Like almost everything about it; Lawless’s casting is faultless. As much as LaBeouf irritates me, he played the juvenile Jack marvelously. Easily the finest performance of his career to date; the youngest brother’s arrogance and misguided enthusiasm is wonderful. With more conviction than many actors twice his age, he’ll hopefully think twice about signing onto a future Michael Bay film. Again, Hardy continues to impress and astound; dominating every scene in some seriously questionable cardigans. His mumbling brutality is never once undermined by his fashion sense, making Forrest is one of the most fearsome yet lovable characters in recent years. In contrast, Pearce’s Rakes is a despicable law enforcer. Visually repellant, evocative of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s child catcher; his vileness is almost Dickensian, and simply a delight to hate.
Audiences will be forgiven for thinking that Gary Oldman plays a significant part in this depression set biopic. The lure of a big name too tempting for studios to pass up on, and fans may be disappointed to learn Oldman’s screen time as Floyd Banner is incredibly limited. This is not a bad thing, as Hardy represents the British isles brilliantly making Lawless classy, charming and original original to boot.