Featuring an exceptional performance by Tom Hardy, Lawless is an assured and entertaining crime-thriller from John Hillcoat that is also very violent and bloody.
Cast: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman
Plot: Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: FilmNation
Subject Matter: Moderate – Power, Brotherhood, Vengeance
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 17 Nov 2012
Tom Hardy steals the screen in this violent crime-thriller set during the Prohibition era in the early 1930s. His character Forrest Bondurant attempts to induce fear in those who are hell-bent in finding trouble with him and his two brothers Jack and Howard for illegally making and selling alcohol.
They meet their match in a sadistic new deputy (played by Guy Pearce) who threatens inconceivable violence on the bootlegging Bondurants if they do not give him a cut of their profits. Apparently all these are based on a true story, adapted from a book called “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant, grandson of Jack.
This true story is also an exciting story of brotherhood, sacrifice, romance, and vengeance. And it is a damn fine crime-thriller, well not the best of its kind, but certainly something that is solid and entertaining.
Directed by John Hillcoat, who previously made the bloody Australian ‘Western’ The Proposition (2005), and the post-apocalyptic existential-survivalist film The Road (2009), Lawless takes a fascinating A-list cast including Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska in excellent supporting roles, and fashions itself into a film that sees beauty in performance and period setting.
“It is not the violence that sets men apart, alright, it is the distance that he is prepared to go.”
Although narrated by Shia LaBeouf, who plays Jack, the central performances of the film come from both Hardy and Pearce. They have only one early scene of dialogue with each other. Yet Hillcoat manages to convey the frayed nature of their relationship in the only way he and his characters do best – violence.
In one graphic sequence which I will not reveal in its entirety, a character’s throat is slashed from ear to ear. Much of the violence occur onscreen, and often with bloody results. All this to a bluegrass-inspired badass soundtrack by Nick Cave (who also wrote the film’s screenplay) and Warren Ellis.
Lawless sees Hillcoat in fine form. In the end credits, the first person he thanked was Terrence Malick. Well, it was probably some kind of gratitude to Malick for letting him use the film’s title (“Lawless” was previously a title for one of Malick’s upcoming films), and perhaps also for Malick’s inspiration (there are a number of scenes of nature that are intercut with the drama).
In any case, Lawless should appease Malick, who is reportedly a big fan of Hillcoat’s work. In competition for the Palme d’Or, Lawless combines action, drama, and suspense in a film that may just convince critics that LaBeouf, in the hands of a good director, is actually a decent actor.