benoit delhomme, bootlegging, chicago, dane dehaan, gary oldman, guy pearce, jason clarke, jessica chastain, lawless, lucinda williams, mia wasikowka, prohibition, shia labeouf, tom hardy
Grade: C+/B- (RENT IT)
A FAMILY THAT bootlegs together stays together, right? At least that was the motto of the Bondurant brothers, a feisty frat servin’ up moonshine in Franklin County, Virginia, and the centerpiece of John Hillcoat’s new crime drama “Lawless.” Benoit Delhomme’s camerawork, pitched to a dusty brown, and the twang of Lucinda Williams, effectively transport us to those dusty days of the Depression. The year is 1931 and the major players are the hard-bitten Forrest (Tom Hardy), war veteran Howard (Jason Clarke) and baby brother Jack (a beefed-up Shia LaBeouf). With the help of Cricket, their disabled friend played by Dane DeHaan, the Bondurants operate a successful watering hole in the back hills of Apalachia.
Jack has his eye on Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), a preacher’s daughter just dying for a ride in his flashy convertible and the intoxications of Jack’s outlaw image. The spectacular but sidelined Jessica Chastain (“The Help,” “Take Shelter”) plays Maggie “Red” Beauford, a former dancer turned barmaid who helps the brothers sling their white lightning. They all maintain amicable connections with the authorities of Franklin who look the other way while taking a few sips themselves.
That is until Chicago lawman Charlie Rakes (an eyebrow-less Guy Pearce) arrives on the scene to demolish the boys’ American pastoral and false sense of invincibility. Who kicks a man when he’s down? Special Deputy Rakes does and viciously so. The locals murmur that Rakes wears perfume and as he gores Jack across his own backyard, he worries that he’ll bloody his crisp pinstripe suit and swimming cap of pomaded hair. Jack recovers, tensions mount, and during a first date gone terribly wrong, Bertha happily trades in her head scarf and church-going clothes for the yellow, strawberry-patterned dress Jack has brought her. All around them, meanwhile, Rakes and his corrupt cronies are bearing down.
The consummate charmer, LaBeouf is known for his effortless chemistry with female costars and though he (and costar Hardy) are in desperate need of dialect coaching, “Lawless” broadens both actors’ likability. More so than the chirpy LaBeouf, Hardy croaks his lines as he did as the dog-muzzled Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” His dialect coach had to have been a bullfrog with a double tracheotomy. More problematic than the performances, the script is from Australian rocker Nick Cave, known for his violently balladry, and based on “The Wettest County in the World” by the Bondurant brothers’ descendant, Matt Bondurant.
“Lawless” is a scrambled egg of a script. One particular sequence, which move from Forrest’s throat being cut in the dirt, an offscreen sexual assault on Maggie, to the aftermath of both these horrors, is as disjointed as the surrounding scenes. Gary Oldman, as Floyd Banner, even shows his villainish face, but he remains, puzzlingly so, on the margins of the Cave’s plotline. Pearce’s Rakes is more than enough villain to go around, but the role written for him is a despicable cliché: a sadistic fop who, aside from hating to be called out for his effeminacy, has no real motivation. You half expect him to victimize Cricket in other ways when he finally gets his manicured hands on him in the woods, and the punishment he has coming to him by the vengeful Bondurants, is both predictable and lacking in dramatic purpose. The bloody fate that Deputy Rakes faces should have been staged in a more intimate fashion with dialogue rather than just bullets exchanged.
Thus “Lawless” ends with another familiar feeling: Chicago, it’s a hell of a town.
The trailers make this look pretty awesome – Shame it didn’t quite come together like it could have based on the premise. Great review!
Thanks; what are you seeing next? Yes, LAWLESS is rentable at best
Tonight I’m going to see High Noon and tomorrow I’m going to see a special showing of The Big Lebowski…Beyond that, I’m not sure.
A re-release on HIGH NOON; sweet!
I was intrigued by the concept of “Lawless,” but it sounds like the movie didn’t quite live up to that concept. 😦
Even the concept, per se, could be better found in THE UNTOUCHABLES or even GOODFELLAS; there are traces of that latter film when Jack watches with wonder, as a child, as Garry Oldman, an old thug, kicks butt and takes names, but even that is dropped out of the film; we don’t see Oldman for another 45 minutes. A disjointed, damaged script.
Yeah, that’s too bad, I wish they’d done more with this movie 😦
Mia @ The Muses Circle said:
I follow Dan O’s blog and found yours through his Lawless review, so I figured to stop by and say hi! I also have a blog but mine is a little different in that I review both books & movies.
Anyway, I also reviewed Lawless and we definitely disagree, but I always can appreciate the flip side of a review! My viewing experience was a little unique. I saw an advance screening of the movie in early August and also had the chance to meet the Matt Bondurant, the author of the book the movie is based on and who also is the grandson of Jack Bondurant. There are a few funny stories I mentioned in my review that Matt talked about during the Q&A. So even if you dislike the movie, you may get a chuckle if you feel like reading my post.
Anyway! I am following you on twitter and “liked” your facebook page. I’ll definitely be back to check out more of your reviews!
Mia @ The Muses Circle
Fantastic! What fun: I rad about Bondurant in THE NEW YORKER, brief profile. A stellar cast but a hoary disappointment, I’m afraid; checking out your blog now!
Yeah I guess I enjoyed myself more than you did… I agree pretty much across the board. It’s just Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce are so good I feel like it’s hard to miss. Also dug the look of the film, not glossy, nothing felt like a Hollywood movie really. My only problem was Shia who just didn’t fit in.
He does have a dominating presence on screen; may be onto something there…
Another enjoyable review Colin. I was thinking the same thing you did about Cricket’s demise. Heck they hinted enough that “that” could happen and like the undersued Gary Oldman not much more happened. LaBoeuf was good but in the end will I or you remember this in a month?
Great minds think alike!
This movie is not out here yet, but will be able to see it as part of a preview festival this coming weekend. Not expecting a lot from it, but looks like an enjoyable ride.
Entertaining in parts, yes; thanks for reading!