For me, Lawless is as close to a “dream team” effort as I have ever seen. It combines a great many of my currently favorite industry folks. Director John Hillcoat stole my heart and my Best Picture vote with The Road. Writer Nick Cave penned one of my all-time favorite films, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Tom Hardy is absolutely on fire right now. He’s lovable in Rocknrolla, cool in Inception, Blunt in Warrior and brutal in The Dark Knight Rises. Guy Pierce is always amazing. Jessica Chastain is little powerhouse. Mia Wasikowska is a rising gem. And even though Gary Oldman’s role is miniscule, he’s always welcome. To be honest, Shia LaBeouf is the weakest link in Lawless – and he’s actually not half bad (for once).
Hardy, LaBeouf and Jason Clarke (from the upcoming Osama bin Laden assassination flick Zero Dark Thirty) play the historical bootlegging Bondurant Brothers of Franklin County, Virginia. During prohibition, they were a major supplier of moonshine. Forrest (Hardy) was the leader of the gang and the brains behind the operation. He was fearless and regarded as an immortal legend. Howard (Clarke) was the muscle, the silent weapon. And Jack, the youngest of the brothers, was nothing more than the worker. He drove their deliveries and swept up after all was said and done. Although he was a part of their scheme, he was soft and somewhat innocent. If any of these three are considered the principle character in this ensemble film, it’s Jack. Like Pony Boy in The Outsiders, we watch him battle with “staying gold” or toughening up.
The Bondurant’s racket ran smoothly until a crooked slick-prick “special” deputy (Pearce) was sent down from Chicago to undermine the operations of the bootleggers plaguing the woods. Forrest wasn’t going to roll over for this sinister crook, so the Bondurants walked head-first into a battle against him and his large squad of dirty officers.
It’s been a good while since we’ve seen a solid gangster flick – especially one set long ago in the past – so Lawless arrives just in time to remind us how great they are (when made well). The story isn’t quite as focused as it should be, but it’s engaging, tense and entertaining all at the same time. Like the gangster flicks of old, Lawless isn’t afraid to take its time, methodically painting the setting, the characters and the conflict.
Although we’re about to step into a very dull period for movies, it’s nice to have Lawless here to remind us of the similar great films to come.
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company