Sunday, 9 September 2012

Lawless 2012

The last time writer Nick Cave (of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame) and director John Hillcoat got together to make a movie, the result was the extraordinary The Proposition (2005), a film I am known to refer to as 'the most powerful Western made in recent times'. Seven years later they have returned with a 1930s Gangster Film, a genre that has been explored over and over again, and recently even made it big on television with HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

Lawless is based on Matt Bondurant's historical novel, The Wettest County in the World, which tells the story of his grandfather and grand-uncles, who ran a successful bootlegging business during Prohibition (1920-1933) in Franklin County, Virginia. The film introduces us to the Bondurant brothers: Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and to myths about their, or at least Forrest's, invincibility. With the help of family friend Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan), their liquor business runs efficiently, while their 'bar' serves as a front for illegal activities. But when a new law-enforcer, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), comes to town and tries to intimidate Franklin's bootleggers into sharing their profits with him, the Bondurants stand up against him and a war gets waged between good and evil, except the lines between these two become extremely fuzzy.

Though the focus of the film is often on Jack, it is Forrest who is a legend. It is his determination that makes the brothers a force to reckon with. He is the brains of the family, Howard the brawn, while Jack is the heart - but none of them is quite as one-dimensional as that. Jack's open infatuation and crazy antics for Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska) bring on the laughter, but it is Forrest's silent longing for Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) that really melts your heart.

The acting in the film is above par. For me, Shia LaBeouf is the sort of performer that rarely leaves an impression - and here, he is playing a character that not a lot of people take seriously. So, it is to his credit that he has done full justice to his role and slowly grows on you through the film. Jason Clarke and Dane DeHaan have small roles, but they are written so well that both actors make an impact. Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain not only provide the much-needed female distraction in this male-dominated drama, as they would have done in the original Gangster Films of the '30s, but they also have a presence that the film could not have done without.

As for Guy Pearce, he has such a mixed bag of roles in his repertoire, and pretty much each one has been delivered to perfection, but he strangely doesn't seem to make enough waves in Hollywood. He was mind-blowing as Charlie Burns in The Proposition, with the same Cave-Hillcoat crew, and now, as Charlie Rakes, he is so deliciously creepy and repulsive that I wanted to get up and clap for him. But he isn't alone in deserving a standing ovation: Tom Hardy, after an under-whelming turn as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), which wasn't his fault but rather the writers', has shown once again why he is in so much demand right now. Using a combination of limited dialogue, small grunts and smouldering glares, he has managed to appear just as fearsome, as he is endearing, in this film.

All the actors have delivered measured and perfect performances, but their job has been made easy by the scriptwriter. Nick Cave has interlaced the extreme violence of the story, with real-life absurdity; his warm, believable characters often deal with bizarre, funny situations, just before something terrible happens. Even at the best of times, the dark clouds are always looming, and during some dark moments, there is a weird urge to laugh. But the writer and director never digress, they never lose grip of the story they are telling and the manner in which they want to relay it.

Lawless is not as flawless or as brilliant as The Proposition, but that may just be because it takes place in a very different era (and is a different genre too). It is a film I would recommend very highly, especially if the sight of blood and gore, at very unexpected moments, does not put you off.

This is, quite simply, the sort of film that reaffirms my love for cinema!


  1. Great review Somaya. Loved the cast, loved the action, and loved the look, but I just didn’t love the pace. Too slow at times and could have been sped up just a bit.

    1. Thanks Dan! I think I was enjoying the creepy ride way too much to notice the pace...haha!