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Review: Lawless

Aug. 28, 2012by: JimmyO

PLOT: The Bondurant Brothers have been creating moonshine ever since prohibition fell upon the United States. Yet with violent crime on the rise in the midst of the great Depression, the local law enforcement finds that they have to crack down on bootleggers. Soon, a war between the brothers and a vendetta driven special deputy begins to brew in the Wettest County in the World."

REVIEW: Director John Hillcoat returns to familiar territory with a striking and bold look at the world of outlaws in the effectively brutal LAWLESS. Adapted from the novel by Matt Bondurant The Wettest County in the World, this is a based on real life (or, fictionalized) account of the Bondurant Brothers, a bootlegging family threatened by a dangerous new deputy wanting to move in on their profits.

This fierce story is told mostly through the eyes of the younger sibling, Jack Bondurant, played with wide-eyed innocence by Shia LaBeouf. The older brothers include the quietly intense Forrest (Tom Hardy) and the firecracker Howard (Jason Clarke). The three brothers have managed to keep out of trouble by occasionally giving the local law enforcement a deal on their very own moonshine. However, with prohibition in full effect, the law begins to close in on the Bondurant family. Chicago Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is especially keen on taking control of the buying and selling of the illegal substance, just so he can profit a little for himself. As if that wasnt enough, Jack is trying to earn his name in the business by dealing with a deadly mobster by the name of Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman).

LAWLESS takes an unflinching look at this part of American history. Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia is beautifully recreated thanks to a keen sense of detail. Oftentimes in period pieces you cant help but feel like you are watching a dull reenactment. Yet Hillcoat skillfully tells the Bondurant story with spurts of brutality and images of breathtaking magnificence. Shot on location just outside of Atlanta - around Peachtree City, Georgia Hillcoat and his DP Benot Delhomme paint this era in a picturesque manner using a natural color palate, one which makes the bloodshed all the more vivid when it occurs. This is a timeless story about a bygone era that manages to combine the western and the gangster drama in a rich and powerful story. It may not be all that original, yet it sure as hell breathes life into both sub-genres.

LaBeouf makes for a compelling hero here. He tells this story of his brothers and their immortality with a sense of wonder and pride. After all, Jack has seen his older brother on the verge of death many a time, and he still has yet to let any outside force strike him down. Hardy is terrific as well as he manages to find balance between his vicious intensity and softer moments between he and his lover - an ex-dancer from Chicago named Maggie Beauford (the exquisite Jessica Chastain). Guy Pearce returns to work with Hillcoat and Cave as a fiercely dangerous villain. The actor gives Rakes a menacing quality that is especially evil when he preys on Jack or his crippled friend (Dane DeHaan, recently seen in CHRONICLE). Oldman, Clarke and the entire cast are all terrific, as are both the ladies including Mia Wasikowska as a preachers daughter Jake falls for and Jessica Chastain as well.

From the opening sequence, one thing certainly stood out, and that is the fantastic score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The music is as important here as the script, the actors and the director. The somber and compelling soundtrack is fueled by the vibrant sounds of The Bootleggers. The bluegrass played throughout features such guest vocalist as Willie Nelson, Wayne Bergeron, Emmylou Harris and Leila Moss. It elevates this moody piece with humor, color and a richness that brings LAWLESS to life. Nick Cave is a dark and poetic songwriter. His sometimes dreamy lyrics are often drenched in a wicked sense of humor. Much like his music, Cave has the ability to pass on this violence laden and atmospheric tone to his screenwriting credits, both for films directed by Aussie John Hillcoat (this and fantastic THE PROPOSITION).

As much as LAWLESS shines, it seems strange to categorize the feature as Based on a True Story. In the press notes it clearly states that the book on which the film is based is fictionalized. Albeit that is not really a problem with the film, it is more so an issue with the marketing. Other than the entire is it or is it not true, LAWLESS occasionally feels as if it offers too much of a good thing when it comes to talent. Clearly the opportunity to have the great Gary Oldman in your film is a plus for any filmmaker, yet his storyline seems incomplete and at times it feels unnecessary. Of course the actor is such a treat here that it is hard to fault his presence.

There is much to love in the latest collaboration of Cave and Hillcoat. It may at times attempt to be more epic than it is, yet that is a minor complaint. This gorgeously directed feature includes a number of terrific performances and a soundtrack that resonates long after the movie ends. At least the summer of 2012 is going out with a bang thanks to this vibrant slice of Americana.

Source: JoBlo.com

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7:18AM on 08/28/2012
Can't wait to see this. I would love to see Hillcoat tackle a screen adaptation of Red Dead Redemption.
Can't wait to see this. I would love to see Hillcoat tackle a screen adaptation of Red Dead Redemption.
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5:48AM on 08/28/2012
Can't wait to see this stupid New Zealand doesn't get it until January :(
Can't wait to see this stupid New Zealand doesn't get it until January :(
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7:47AM on 08/28/2012
9/10? Wow!
9/10? Wow!
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3:59PM on 08/28/2012

Oscar potential

double post, sorry
double post, sorry
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1:29PM on 08/28/2012
Any Oscar worthy material? Regardless, I'm sold. Thanks for the review
Any Oscar worthy material? Regardless, I'm sold. Thanks for the review
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7:58AM on 08/28/2012

WOOT!

Even more excited now.
Even more excited now.
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11:48PM on 08/30/2012
guy pearce played a truly magnificent villain, the attention to detail in making him loathsome was great. he actually reminded me of a character gary oldman wouldve played in the 90's. was still nice to get what oldman i could on the big screen though.
guy pearce played a truly magnificent villain, the attention to detail in making him loathsome was great. he actually reminded me of a character gary oldman wouldve played in the 90's. was still nice to get what oldman i could on the big screen though.
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3:53AM on 08/30/2012
Wow, really surprised this is that good. The trailer was entertaining, but never came off as from a film that was great. Will probably have to check this out then.
Wow, really surprised this is that good. The trailer was entertaining, but never came off as from a film that was great. Will probably have to check this out then.
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2:23AM on 08/29/2012
Just got back from a midnight release and the film is simply amazing. I would highly reconmend it.
Just got back from a midnight release and the film is simply amazing. I would highly reconmend it.
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3:24PM on 08/28/2012

Oscar potential

I saw this last night and I absolutely loved it! It is definitely in my Top 5 list of 2012! As for Oscar potential, Hardy will almost certainly get a nomination for his performance. I would not be surprised if it gets a best picture nomination as well. 10/10 for me
I saw this last night and I absolutely loved it! It is definitely in my Top 5 list of 2012! As for Oscar potential, Hardy will almost certainly get a nomination for his performance. I would not be surprised if it gets a best picture nomination as well. 10/10 for me
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12:10PM on 08/28/2012
I am sure everyone is talking about Tom Hardy as he does look like he turned in a great performance here.
Guy Pearce is the one who got my attention in the trailer. Looks like Guy Pearce really tried to become that character.
I am sure everyone is talking about Tom Hardy as he does look like he turned in a great performance here.
Guy Pearce is the one who got my attention in the trailer. Looks like Guy Pearce really tried to become that character.
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12:29PM on 08/28/2012

So stoked

Still disappointed they shot it in Georgia instead of Franklin Co. (mostly because I'm 30 mins away) But I'll live.
Still disappointed they shot it in Georgia instead of Franklin Co. (mostly because I'm 30 mins away) But I'll live.
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7:03PM on 08/28/2012

Damn it!

It looks like such an interesting movie and I've heard great things about it already, but one thing that has me taking a step back is the fact that I couldn't make it halfway through 'The Proposition.' Nope, just couldn't make it. People constantly say how great that movie is and I'm starting to wonder if I bought a different movie. It's got Guy Pierce, right? It's got a good premise, right? But it's a shitty Aussie Western, right? I had such high hopes until that fact came out. I'll maybe give
It looks like such an interesting movie and I've heard great things about it already, but one thing that has me taking a step back is the fact that I couldn't make it halfway through 'The Proposition.' Nope, just couldn't make it. People constantly say how great that movie is and I'm starting to wonder if I bought a different movie. It's got Guy Pierce, right? It's got a good premise, right? But it's a shitty Aussie Western, right? I had such high hopes until that fact came out. I'll maybe give this a chance, but 'The Proposition' put such a bad taste in my mouth...
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