Actors’ command fleshes out ‘Lawless’
Published: Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012 20:09
It’s the Prohibition, and Franklin County, Virginia, is not the kind of place you’d ever want to find yourself. The good guys aren’t so good, and the bad guys show no mercy. There’s a war going on between those who have it (alcohol, masculinity pride, fearlessness to the point of stupidity) and those who have less of it. The police aren’t sure who to side with—the people of Franklin County make their own rules and aren’t afraid to break them.
This is the backdrop for John Hillcoat’s new flick Lawless, based on the true story of the Bondurant brothers, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke). The brothers run an illegal liquor business out of their family’s store and, along with Jack’s friend Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan), produce the moonshine in a hidden distillery nearby.
Chicago big shot Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) has been hired to put a stop to the Bondurants’ bootlegging. Rakes is definitely one of the bad guys. With his slicked- back hair and city-boy accent, he is both talk and action.
But the Bondurants aren’t boys to be messed with. They’re legendary, and some say they’re even the stuff of legend: invincible, inhuman, immortal. When they find that they have the worst of the bad guys, serial killer Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), as their number-one customer, they discover the confidence to withstand the danger of guns and knives.
On the surface, Lawless is unique. The plot is complex, the morality of the characters is multi-dimensional and the setting is flawlessly photographed by Benoît Delhomme (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, One Day). But beyond the basics, the film is predictable, from who’s going to live and who’s going to die, to the type of transformation each character must go through to make it to the end.
Luckily for Hillcoat, the lack of surprise actually works to the film’s advantage. Set to a powerful score, the denouement offers a sort of catharsis not found in other movies with expected outcomes. There is satisfaction in seeing the characters, especially Jack, fulfill the miniature prophecies you begin to set for them.
LaBeouf outshines his costars, whose grunts and scowls make it seem like they took the easy way out in their interpretations. LaBeouf, with his boyish looks and silly part-shaven hairstyle, brings out the sides of Jack’s personality that are relatable and even likeable.
Pearce is a strong foil to the youngest Bondurant: he is chilling as the black-suited, well-groomed villain and makes it easy for the audience to side with the rule-breakers. From his speech mannerisms to his unfaltering mission, Pearce stands out as an atypically coldhearted law enforcer.
Though it is certainly not an action film, Lawless is not for the squeamish. There’s blood, there’s bodily mutilation and there are countless instances of intolerable pain. Just don’t close your eyes for too long, or you might miss out on what may seem like a pissing contest but is actually an incredibly engaging story of growth, morality and internal strength.