Overlooked Film of the Week- #53
"Lawless" was based off a book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant. Matt Bondurant was a great relative of the Bondurant brothers, which the book and movie are based on. The Bondurant brothers -- Forrest, Howard and Jack -- ran an illegal bootlegging business in the deep country of Virginia in the 1930s. Like many bootleggers of the time, the Bondurant brothers worked for themselves, they were not connected to other big organized crime groups of the time. That changed when corrupt officers of the Virginia Commonwealth wanted a cut of the Bondurant profits or they would be arrested. The brothers stood up for themselves and never had to payoff anybody during their endeavors. The brothers were known for being unable to die. Howard, the oldest brother, was the only one who survived from his unit in World War I.
The film follows the book pretty well. It features blistering performances all around. Tom Hardy plays Forrest; the middle brother and leader of the racket, Jason Clarke plays Howard; the oldest brother and Shia LeBeouf plays Jack; the youngest brother and our narrator through this world. Its a wonderful trio of actors at a particular high in their careers. Tom Hardy, in particular, is absolutely menacing as Forrest. His voice, his mannerisms, his presence is utterly unbelievable. Every time Hardy is on-screen, it will be hard to focus on anything or anyone else. Jason Clarke is a diamond in the rough, somebody who absolutely deserves to be more known than he is. Clarke is electric as Howard. Then there's Shia LeBeouf. Look, I know the guy has gone off the deep end recently, but he should regress. LeBeouf is capable of visual thunder nearly every time he's on screen. I think he's matured quite a bit as an actor and artist. His work in "Lawless" is the glue to the story, and he makes every story beat payoff well.
In last week's edition of Overlooked Film of the Week, I discussed Guy Pierce's work in "Memento." I discussed how impressed by his heroism in that movie and how he had great range. Those of you who know Pierce for being bad won't be disappointed here. Guy Pierce plays Officer Charley Rakes, a representative of the Virginia Commonwealth who puts the pressure on the Virginia's moonshiners. Pierce's work as Rakes is instantly iconic, something truly special and truly scary. Charley Rakes has his eyebrows shaved off, he has quirks in his personality that are never explained, and he's awfully violent. Pierce uses a unique accent that only makes Rakes more terrifying. Its a great role for Pierce and throws down like he never has before.
The other major players include Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska. Jessica Chastain does great work as Maggie a dancer from Chicago who Forrest hires as a clerk at his gas station. Dane DeHaan plays Cricket, Jack's best friend and who is crucial in a few moments of the film. DeHaan does the niave, innocent persona overly-well. Gary Oldman plays a gangster from Chicago. Oldman doesn't have many scenes in the film, but he makes every single one count. Mia Wasikowska plays Bertha, the love interest to Jack. LeBeouf and Wasikowska have great chemistry together and they do good work together.
With all the great performances aside, I must warn that "Lawless" is a rough movie. We get a grimy look at the world of moonshine making during the 1930's. This is a movie populated by bad people doing bad things to each other. If that does not sound entertaining to you, then I'd say skip "Lawless." Its a great look at actors at their best and it's 1930's landscape is absolutely breathtaking. The music of the movie only enriches all the great material on display. Even though "Lawless" is gritty to the bone, there is so much going for it and so much to love that it is hard to not recommend.
Check out "Lawless" as it is hillbilly fun for the whole family!