Cannes 2012 Review: John Hillcoat's Badass Prohibiton Film 'Lawless'
by Alex Billington
May 19, 2012
I thought I couldn't like Tom Hardy any more than I already do (and I haven't even see The Dark Knight Rises yet), but this film takes him to even greater heights. Today was the Cannes Film Festival premiere of John Hillcoat's Lawless, an adaptation of Matt Bondurant's The Wettest County in the World, about the Bondurant brothers living in Virginia during the prohibition era in the 1930s. Bootleggers extraordinaire, the film follows the three of them and their "immortal", "invincible" ways as they fight to survive against the ATU (Alcohol Tax Unit) and police. It's bloody, it's brutal, it's badass, and the big cast all around impresses.
Lawless is indeed about lawless individuals, putting the lawbreakers at the forefront as the protagonists, and the police as the bad guys, but that's the only way to do it with a story about the prohibition time. Corrupt cops and politicians who didn't appreciate the booze and just wanted their cut of the money were as ruthless and murderous as the bootleggers themselves. In the film we see the Bondurant brothers, played by Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke, and the troubles they go through trying to run a "clean" moonshine business and keep the area wet, flowing with that beverage everyone enjoys. This is the kind of gangster film where every second is tense, any moment anyone could jump in and outright kill someone.
It's that tension, that becomes intensity, when the brutality kicks in. There's a couple of badass gunfights and shoot outs, some incredibly violent moments, lots of blood as one might expect, foul language, and more, but it's a good time. Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) always shoots beautifully, but subtly with his cinematography, and let's the characters drive (both literally with many classic Fords and figuratively) the period story. It's gripping and intriguing, mostly for the characters and the "what's going to happen next" thrill, with Guy Pearce as Special Agent Charlie Rakes hunting down the three Bondurants. He's ruthless and Pearce does a deviously fun job with him, but is a bit too fickle, especially near the end.
The highlights of Lawless are unquestionably the performances, hell just the cast itself. Pearce as one of the bad guy cops, Gary Oldman as Floyd Banner, another villainous character who doesn't get enough time with a tommy gun (one awesome scene and that's it). But it's Tom Hardy who really takes on the role as Forrest Bondurant and runs with it. As an actor, Hardy is already phenom, and he's only getting better. Here he uses grunts, vocal noises, and poignant dialogue to assert his sheer badassery and it works wonders. As stated by colleague Eric Snider on twitter after: this "will definitely add to Tom Hardy's badass status."
I also must mention Shia LaBeouf, who also stands out in Lawless and delivers an impressive, fleshed-out performance as the younger Jack Bondurant brother. Dane DeHaan, seen as Andrew in Chronicle this year, also appears and does a solid job. Jessica Chastain brings an immense beauty and softness to the otherwise vicious edge of Lawless, and Mia Wasikowska is charming, too. The only performance I wasn't fond of was Jason Clarke, who just felt lackluster, which is odd considering I loved him in "The Chicago Code". The story itself is a bit typical and this isn't a knock out, but it's such a damn good bootleggin', gangster, prohibiton era romp, and I cannot say I didn't have a hell of a good time downing this moonshine.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 8 out of 10