Director: John Hillcoat Producers: Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick, Megan Ellison, Michael Benarova Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce Screenplay: Nick Cave Music: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis Editor: Dylan Tichenor Cinematographer: Benoit Delhomme
Lawless is a multi-level tale, based on a true story during America’s prohibition. It’s fast paced, full of adventure, romance, violence and some comedy, but it also manages to pull at your heart strings. Although it’s considered a “gangster film”, Lawless is much more than just some pretty men with cool guns.
Based off the historical novel written by Matt Bondurant, The Wettest County in the World, Lawless tells the story of the Bondurant boys’ bootlegging moonshine business in Virginia during 1931 prohibition. The boys are sitting pretty financially, until special deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes to town and demands a cut of their profits. The Bondurant’s refuse to be bullied and begin selling alcohol in Chicago. But once the boys find out Rakes was behind an attack at their bar, Lawless becomes a bloody fight full of vengeance.
Most recently known for his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy isn’t an actor I was particularly familiar with. But in recent years Hardy has been showing up more and more, and in bigger roles. His depiction of the oldest of the Bondurant’s, Forrest, easily stole the show. From his astounding southern accent for an Englishman to his fearless attitude, Hardy was commanding on screen. He was brave yet calm and humble.
In an interview with The Guardian, author Matt Bondurant describes his Great Uncle Forrest after a fight, “Forrest had his throat cut from ear to ear in an altercation at his restaurant/moonshine way-station. The legend is that he walked nearly 10 miles through the snow to the hospital, holding his neck together.” Tom Hardy definitely played Forrest as though he was invincible, just as the legend says. Impressive, genuine, and unforgettable, Hardy is the actor that helped Lawless leave a lasting impression.
Although Tom Hardy was the standout star of the film, the rest of the cast definitely deserves some honorable mentions. Shia LaBeouf has certainly come a long way from his Disney Channel days with his portrayal of the youngest Bondurant, Jack. LaBeouf is charming, impulsive, and often times aloof, giving some comedic relief despite his attempts at being as brave as his brothers.
Gary Oldman doesn’t really even have much to do or say in the film, but portrays mobster Floyd Banner who turns out to befriend Jack Bondurant. He was able to uniquely balance the heartless killer attitude alongside a caring almost father-like figure.
Guy Pearce was phenomenal as the eccentric villain Deputy Rakes. He made you hate him but still want to watch every move he makes. Pearce was unpredictable on screen, and it made for one exciting bad guy that keeps you guessing.
For me, the coolest part about the film was how they really succeeded in making it feel like the early 30′s. When the boys begin making a lot of money, Jack spends his on dapper new suits and even a new car. By showing what a young person with a lot of money would’ve bought, the style of the time was really brought to light.
The costume designer is Margot Wilson, who’s worked with both director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave before. Probably best known for her award winning designs for The Proposition, Wilson deserves special note for her spot on variations of menswear and women’s attire, particularly the the police officers and slick mobsters.
French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme also deserves some mention as its his camera angles that help establish the scenery that holds the film together. With shots of the shoot out, throats being cut, and even the beautiful Virginia countryside, Delhomme also captures the essence of the 30′s.
Although I’m not a huge fan of violence and am not overly enthusiastic about guns, Lawless undoubtedly had some cool shoot outs. The suspense of wondering what would happen next was only intensified when main characters were killed off. Without giving too much away, the cool guns from the 30’s that were used would often wound characters -but it would take a more substantial weapon to fully kill these characters. It made for brutal and bloody fights with unpredictable endings.
Typically for a film, I only notice the music if it stands out for some particular reason and often times it’s good. But for Lawless, I found myself questioning some of the soundtrack sounds. Although the songs were cleverly sung by the score’s house band The Bootleggers, the music didn’t seem to fit as perfectly with the film like the rest of elements. I just wasn’t convinced I was listening to the same music I typically associate with the time period, and was disappointed with that element.
As I mentioned before, I’m not a die-hard gun or violence fan. But I had heard that Lawless wasn’t typical for the “gangster” film genre. While there were several shoot outs and fights, there was a lot of romance too. None of the fights were lengthy enough to establish any suitable “gang”. There were a few scenes featuring gatherings of several suited men with guns, and technically the Bondurant boys were gang-like, but the film certainly wasn’t in the ranks of what most people would consider a gangster film. It wasn’t a problem for me personally, but I can imagine many people would be expecting more.
In general, Lawless was very thought out and well done. Above all, the story is interesting and suspenseful, but its the other elements that make the film well rounded. The 1st person narration by Jack in the future is key to telling the story in a realistic and adventurous fashion. It beautifully incorporates humor and love into death and oppression. From the atmosphere to the script and all the way around, Lawless is solid.
Buy It, Rent It, Skip It:
Rent it, maybe buy it. I don’t think this movie is for everyone, but it’s worth seeing. The story is based off true events and it’s really an interesting way of depicting the prohibition. Even if you’re not a history buff, the short period of prohibition shows a unique time in the history of man. If you want to see a typical gangster film then Lawless isn’t for you. But if you want a genuine story with great acting that will keep you guessing, you should rent it. Since it’s a timeless tale, buying it isn’t a terrible choice either.