Director John Hillcoat has a knack for creating stunning visual palettes that become as important as the characters who reside in his films: “Lawless” is no exception. But the sharp contrast between the beautiful Georgia backwoods and the bloody violence depicted in the film may be too much for some audiences.
Based on the true account of the bootlegger Bondurant brothers, the action takes place during the Prohibition era. Forrest (Tom Hardy), Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and Howard (Jason Clarke) Bondurant distill and distribute moonshine from Franklin County, Va., to gin joints in Chicago. It’s a sweet little operation until G-Man, Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce), wants a piece of the action. The Bondurant brothers brutally refuse.
A great cast of characters keeps “Lawless” from sinking into a cliché. Hardy (“The Dark Knight Rises”) is subtly sublime as the cocksure Forrest Bondurant, a man of few words and severely painful actions. Mystery woman Maggie (Jessica Chastain) falls for Forrest Bondurant and religious Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) gets quite familiar with young Jack Bondurant. But it’s over-the-top Guy Pearce who gets under your skin as the perfumed, bow-tied, psychotic special agent Rakes.
The lack of screen-time that the always excellent Gary Oldman has in the film, as big-time Chicago gangster Floyd Banner, is a huge disappointment ... it couldn’t have been more than three minutes, total.
Hillcoat literally goes for the jugular in “Lawless.” It sometimes seems gratuitous. Throat-slashing, neck-breaking and even a horrific tar-and-feathering are difficult to watch. But, he also throws in some extremely creative devices; one of which is a “Bonnie and Clyde”-like photo shoot with Jack sitting on top of a vintage car with guns in hand and a smile on his face.
I’d be remiss not commenting on the super soundtrack by Nick Cave (who also wrote the screenplay) and Warren Ellis. Both worked with Hillcoat on “The Road” and “The Proposition.” Vocalists include Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees front-man), Emmylou Harris and The Velvet Underground.
“Lawless” is not flawless. It lacks a cohesive plot and flounders about at times. But its white-lightening score and stunning cinematography make it decent summer fare.
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