March 10, 2016


John Hillcoat, 2012
All you really need to do is take a look at the plot synopsis and cast listing to draw interest in John Hillcoat’s Lawless. A prohibition-era period piece about three bootlegging brothers that are at odds with a local deputy. Starring Shia Labeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Dane Dehaan, Gary Oldman. Basically a handful of some of the best actors working today. And although some of the casting decisions are a bit questionable (Chastain) for their respective roles, it’s hard for a film with that kind of fuel to go wrong.

The best quality of the film is probably the attention to detail in terms of the production design. The southern atmosphere is completely immersive. You really feel like you are there in the muggy heat with the bugs buzzing around you. You really get a good look at the natural beauty of the South - which is supposed to be Virginia but actually filmed in Georgia.

There isn’t a whole lot to the film other than a focus on the family dynamics between the Bondurant brothers and their battle against the eccentric special deputy Charlie Rakes, played by Guy Pearce (who really nails the role). Rakes provides a couple hints that he suffers from an OCD-type of condition, as he is visibly horrified by his suit being dirtied. But this conflict between the deputy and the brothers is enough for a serviceable period drama, even with a muted Tom Hardy. Because even a muted Tom Hardy is still good. The film succeeds in getting you engaged in the brothers, all while building anger toward Rakes. Probably because the hypocrisy is so evident, the cops turning a blind eye to the moonshining operations because they are getting their palms greased. Rakes does nothing but flex is muscle without having to do any of the dirty work.

But looking back on this film years from now I probably won’t be thinking about the gun battles. I might be thinking about Pearce’s Rakes character. But I will undoubtedly be thinking about that old porch with the various chairs and how I would just want to sit in one of them for a few hours and sip on a mason jar with some moonshine and look out into the woods. So ultimately Lawless succeeds in being alluring without having to break new ground in the genre.

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