1931 and Shia LaBeouf. If you were anticipating another Indiana Jones movie, you’d be wrong. The treasure people spilled blood for in Lawless isn’t archaeological, but alcoholic, produced illegally during the Prohibition in Virginia.
Based on the true story told in Matt Bondurant’s autobiographical family novel, The Wettest Country in the World, Lawless wows you with a star-studded cast. Besides Shia LaBeouf, there’s Tom Hardy (the unforgettable Bane in The Dark Knight Rises?), Jessica Chastain (who gained prominence last year for films like The Tree of Life), Guy Pearce (who stars in upcoming Iron Man 3), Gary Oldman(Recently nominated for Best Actor at the Oscar’s for his lead role in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Jason Clarke.
LaBeouf, Hardy and Clarke play the Bondurant Brothers, who are “invincible”, as said by LaBeouf’s love interest in the film, Bertha Minnix, played by Mia Wasikowska. Youngest brother Jack’s the eager beaver, Forrest is quiet yet phlegmatic, and eldest son Howard is the true blue Hillbilly.
The trio find their fortune in the moonshine business, while operating a restaurant in the day. Their happiness and wealth is short-lived, however, with a visit from federal agent Charlie Rakes (Pearce). Rakes is building his own nest egg by collecting bribes from every bootlegger in the county in return for not turning them in. Forrest, who’s extremely protective about his family, threatens to take Rakes’ life if he ever returns.
Rakes, in turn, starts to play rough, escalating their differences into a full fledged battle. Rakes first find Jack at Cricket’s house and beat him up, and even hired two men to cut Forrest’s throat. Though a little too gory, it was still pretty engaging to watch them go against each other.
Rakes calls to mind Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Lada in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. The brutal yet charming antagonist much loved by the audience for his magnificent performance, makes the film much more a joy to watch.
Hardy also gave a riveting performance, finally displaying his serious yet charming facial expressions we failed to see in The Dark Knight Rises. It’s also worth mentioning that LaBeouf finally breaks out from his teen-ish blockbusters such as Transformers (say hello to a more mature him) ,and this could very well kick-start the beginning of his “new” career.
Kudos, too, to the wardrobe selections. Almost every character had wonderful styling, even for hair and makeup, which really reflected their individual personalities as well. From the red lips and red nail polishes from Chastain’s character to the three-quarter printed ties and three-piece suits worn by Oldman and Pearce, and even the cardigans and perfectly gelled hair from the brothers were all too almost-perfect to ignore.
However, the film was balancing too many different storylines, and it was just a little too messy. Chastain’s character, Maggie was sweet and her relationship with Forrest showed depth, and Oldman was fantastic during his screentime as a badass gangster. Unfortunately, both weren’t given enough screen time to develop their characters, which could potentially give the film a better kick.
An ambitious project from Australian director John Hillcoat (directed previous films such as The Road and The Proposition), the film could have been a classic print-to-book adaptation, but it simply lacked that finishing touch. Perhaps Hillcoat was taking on too much with too many character arcs (3 brothers, 2 love interests, a county full of bootleggers and a very intriguing antagonist) that made the film seem like it was trying a little too hard, yet coming off lacklustre, and lacking a key emotion that would make audiences feel some sort of emotional attachment.
Nonetheless, it captures the colourful life of dodging authorities led by bootleggers, who existed not only in America, but Australia, Europe and even, surprisingly China, as early as 2070 BC. Coupled with great performances from an outstanding cast, Lawless is definitely a good watch.
Opens: Nov 15
Duration: 115 minutes
Age Rating: M18 (Violence, Nudity & Coarse Language)
Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce