D: John Hillcoat. W: Nick Cave. DP: Benoît Delhomme. Starring: Shia LeBeouf/Tom Hardy/Jason Clarke/Guy Pearce/Jessica Chastain/Mia Wasikowska/Dane DeHaan/Gary Oldman/Bill Camp. (Based on Matt Bondurant’s novel, The Wettest County in the World.)
As fall descends on most parts of the country, us Angelinos still writhe in heat and repeat our monologues on the wonders of daily life without air conditioning. For those sweating out September like me, might I recommend escaping the humidity with a little Depression-era fun? Alcohol included.
Lawless was originally conceived and put together as a studio film. Brimming with an A-list cast, the film soon fell apart in 2008 as financiers fell out and creativity clashes came to light. Thankfully, director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave were able to resurrect their story on an independent budget and with a, in my opinion, even better cast.
The only actor to remain attached and apparently championing the film was Shia LeBeouf. Rightfully so it is Lebouf’s character, Jack Bondurant, that acts as a catalyst for much of his family’s journey in the film. Lawless delves into the Bondurant boys’ Virginia business of making moonshine for the local community. Yet LeBeouf’s desire to expand is stalled when Prohibition hits their town. LeBouf’s Jack is the youngest, least physical, but most ambitious of the Bondurants and deftly feels the highs and lows of his business in his pocket and on his face. LeBeouf’s doe-eyes, innocent smile, and clear understanding of the material serve him well here. He’s as much likable as he is pathetic, and you cannot help rooting for him through his stupidity, bravery, and grief.
LeBeouf is generously and memorably supported by Tom Hardy as eldest Bondurant boy, Forrest. As thick as his name suggests, Hardy’s Bane-like physique is mastered beautifully. Kept snug by a grandfather cardigan and favorite hat, Hardy’s Forrest is subtle, commanding, and powerfully controlled. You’ll honestly wish there was even more of him in the film. Yet if there was we’d miss out on Gary Oldman’s sparkly turn as a local gangster and the little of Jessica Chastain’s Maggie we get to see. Equally as good yet with less moments to shine are Mia Wasikowska as LeBeouf’s young love interest and Jason Clarke as middle drunken Bondurant boy, Howard. Rounding out all of these fine actors though is Guy Pearce as trecherous germaphobic special agent Charlie Rakes. Hell bent on spreading hell within the Bondurant camp, he’ll hopefully remind everyone why Prohibition ended.
Lastly, Lawless was clearly lovingly made. Hillcoat provides a well-balanced film that both visually resonates and orally ignites. In clear conjunction with his screenwriter, he melds the gangster and western genres so well that ultimately the biggest compliment I can give is, I want to see more. And with a soundtrack and original music like Lawless let’s hope this collabartion continues.