Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes in Lawless
Lawless is an adaption of The Wettest County in the World, a historical novel written by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of the main protagonist of the story, Jack Bondurant (played by Shia LeBeouf), set in Franklin County, Virginia, during the prohibition in 1931. For those who have not seen TV series Boardwalk Empire, this was when – between the years 1920 and 1933 – the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol was banned throughout the USA; thus, causing it to be done illegally, instead. The story concentrates on the Bondurant brothers (LeBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke), small town moonshine bootleggers at the time, and specifically how their somewhat dodgy livelihood was threatened by a new corrupt special deputy.
Written and scored by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, this is the same team which brought us the The Proposition. The stories for both films share several main themes; men treading the thin line between right and wrong versus corrupt officials, while living outside the law, within a sparsely populated location. However, Lawless has a slightly more commercially friendly tone. Of course, this film does still have an eighteen certificate; Hillcoat is very raw in his directing, particularly in regards to the violence, and that is not lost here; you really feel every punch, kick, throat cutting and spade whacking. The period has also been captured well, particularly as everything looks used and lived in.
Hillcoat also likes to get the best out of his actors, often letting the camera rest on them for longer than most filmmakers would dare, allowing them room to breathe. There are some great performances; particularly Gary Oldman, as Chicago gang boss Floyd Banner, who is fantastic in his surprisingly small role, and Tom Hardy is as great as ever as the mumbling, cardigan wearing, seemingly indestructible Forrest Bondurant. But it is Guy Pearce who comes out with top honours - his portrayal of special deputy Charlie Rakes is mesmerising; his over-the-top suits, his well groomed hair, his pompous accent, all go towards making his sadistic actions all the more terrifying.
The audience are cornered into rooting for The Bondurant boys, who are all some way likable - as is their young partner Cricket Pate, played by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), who is reminiscent of a What’s Eating Gilbert Grape-era DiCaprio. Let it not be overlooked that they are not the most morally upstanding family. The movie’s tagline, “When the law became corrupt, outlaws became heroes”, obviously acknowledges this fact, but it just makes one wonder what possibly dark truths may have been left out of the true story. Middle of the greyscale protagonists and antagonists are much more interesting than black and white ones, of course, but it sometimes feels as if the macho sentimentality was pushed a bit too hard. There is also a somewhat corny closing scene and the wooing of the love interests, Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter) and Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), are both slightly formulaic story threads.
Lawless does not hit the consistently high standard of Hillcoat’s previous features; while it has the same sudden bursts of violence as The Proposition and The Road, there is a more playful and lighter tone throughout, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes bad. However, it is still an aesthetically pleasing, superbly acted and historically interesting film, all played out to another great musical score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Lawless is showing at Broadway until Thursday 20 September.
Lawless official website