Lawless – one of the best films you’ll see this year

(Ridiculously late post this but here we go anyway…). From visionary director John Hillcoat and screenwriter/musician Nick Cave comes Lawless, a film based on the true story of the Bondurant brothers, bootleggers selling their own moonshine in Depression-era Franklin County during the enforcement of Prohibition. Franklin County was at the time known as The Wettest County in the World (the original title of the film) due to the ridiculous amount of bootlegging occurring – everyone and anyone had their own stills brewing, but it was the Bondurants who managed to make the most out of this risky business. When we meet the brothers in Lawless things are going well for them, that is until the arrival of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) who wants a cut of their profit. The brothers aren’t going to bend to anyone elses rules though. But how will they cope when crooked Rakes starts to crack down on those who break the Prohibition law?

Like Hillcoat’s previous films, The Proposition (also written by Cave) and The Road, Lawless offers a look at harsh times and even harsher people. It is superbly directed by Hillcoat who frames the landscape in such a way as to make it seem vast and beautiful, yet with an underlying sense of unease throughout, hiding secrets (like the illegal hidden stills burning brightly in most of the hills) and other unwholesome characters. Cave’s script is also excellent – it draws you in, never letting you take a moments breath: even at times when there isn’t anything horrific happening onscreen, there is a relentless tension that both Cave and Hillcoat create which keeps you on the edge of your seat. And there are plenty of horrifying moments that are shown (and not shown) in Lawless.

The characters on show in the film are another main draw, each one of them being well-rounded and very well-acted. The amazing cast enlisted to bring these people to life also sticks in your mind: Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke and Shia LaBeouf are great as the feuding brothers; Forrest (Hardy) acting as the patriarch of the group and the muscle, Howard (Clarke) their manic (and mostly drunken) energy, and Jack (LaBeouf) the frantic impatience, eager to prove himself to his brothers and to Bertha, a young preacher’s daughter he takes a shine to (Mia Wasikowska, also excellent). Tom Hardy is one of the obvious standouts, again providing another compelling character who’s not just muscle, but a nervous, quiet man who prefers to grunt instead of speak. He is especially nervous when it comes to Maggie (Jessica Chastain), a woman from the city come to help the brothers run their business. Chastain is also brilliant as this resilient woman with a few secrets of her own.

One of the surprising standouts though is actually LaBeouf as Jack – he’s amazingly convincing as the younger brother, especially when it comes to the many emotional scenes he has. Two more draws in Lawless are also Guy Pearce as Rakes, playing him as a sleazy (literally – you can almost see the grease pouring off him) terrifying weirdo, all calm until he snaps and shows his victims who’s really in charge. The other is Gary Oldman as Floyd Banner, a gangster also in the bootlegging business. Although Oldman is again exceptional his role is more of a cameo, as he is only onscreen for a few minutes. But as usual he makes a (menacing) lasting impression.

Lawless feels like a cross between a historical drama and a dark, dingy western. It is a beautiful piece of cinema, not just because of the astounding cast and amazing performances but also because of the excellent script by Cave and the confident direction from Hillcoat. It is gripping from start to finish for all these reasons. And in my opinion it’s one of the best films that has been released this year. Hopefully Hillcoat and Cave will be collaborating yet again (Lawless marking the third time they’ve worked together as director and screenwriter), and if they do I’m sure the results will be just as amazing as this.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on October 17, 2012.

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