ďIt is not the violence that sets men apart, alright, it is the distance that he is prepared to go.Ē
- Forrest Bondurant
Hereís what I wrote about this one in my theatrical review:
ďAccording to legend, Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) cannot be killed, surviving the Spanish Flu as a child while everyone else who got it wasnít so lucky. His older brother Howard (Jason Clarke) is apparently equally indestructible, making it through some of the most horrific battle of the Great War virtually unscathed. Only the youngest Jack (Shia LaBeouf) doesnít appear to live up to the family lore, his intelligence and quick wit doing little to mask his sensitivity and timidity as it relates to violence.
The Bondurants are the leading bootleggers in all of rural Virginia. They donít expand, donít aim high, just do what they do better than everyone else, knowing who to pay off and who to keep in line. But Jack wants more, and even with a new, and very corrupt, Special Deputy named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) stalking their every move he sees the opportunity to expand the brothersí business if Forrest is willing to let him lead the way.
Lawless, based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, scripted by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, both of whom previously joined forces on the pitch-black Australian Western The Proposition, is a Prohibition gangster saga that doesnít go anywhere new or do a single thing thatís unexpected. Itís also a damn fine motion picture, acted to perfection and made with consummate skill. On top of that, itís remarkably entertaining start to finish, and even the minute little bits that donít work the whole is so strikingly well done itís mighty difficult to not walk out of the theatre hugely impressed.
Granted, the filmmakers and the author would love for you to believe that this is (mostly) a true story, that the meat and potatoes of the Bondurant saga actually took place. The truth, however, is anything but, as liberties are taken all over the place, and as colorful as the real tale is itís still nothing compared to the wildly over the top fictions takes place here.
No matter. This is old school American mythology, Hatfield and McCoy style, and for my money when itís as beautifully told as this there isnít a darn thing wrong with that. Caveís writing is sharp, punchy, straight to the point and doesnít hold back. Hillcoatís direction equally so, the directorís keen eye for detail allowing the scenario to play out without pretense, no filler, and whether floating between young love, wounded desire or bloody revenge every step of the journey is a perfectly planned aria of suffering, pain and brotherly trust that rarely, if ever, goes off track.
There are meaty supporting roles for Jessica Chastain as a wounded society dame fresh from Chicago looking to disappear in Forrestís backwoodsí bar and for Gary Oldman as a notorious gangster whose skills with a Tommy Gun are only matched by his abilities to ascertain a personís attributes to make him money, but they arenít the focus. Hillcoat smartly keeps things centered on the Bondurants, specifically Forrest and Jack, allowing them to be the emotional catalyst that fuels everything from vindictive revenge to blissful young love to everything in-between.
Hardy dominates, of that there is no doubt. Forrest is a man of few words, his series of shrugs, grunts and raising of the eyebrows expressing and explaining volumes. For a ferocious beast of a human animal, in all honesty he actually doesnít raise that much hell, just the potential for it enough to create tension. But when he does act? When the man does spring into action? Hold onto your seats because itís like Clint Eastwood, Robert Mitchum, Toshiro Mifune and The Hulk rolled into one freakish adult specimen and thereís no telling what sort of carnage heís going to be capable of unleashing.
But the surprise is that, by and large, LaBeouf equals him, delivering the sort of multifaceted performance Iíve always known was a possibility but thanks to his series of big budget Hollywood spectacles didnít look like would ever be delivered upon. He shares scenes with the magnetic Mia Wasikowska that took my breath away, while sequences with Dane DeHaan foreshadow stunning tragedy with a series of playful laughs and kid-like joviality instead of with tears and hardship. The former Disney darling and Transformers series star is the heart of the picture, the human engine around which all else revolves, and if Hardy is the force of nature then LaBeouf is the everyman giving his costarís destructive forcefulness a reason to exist.
Comparisons to the Coen brothersí Millerís Crossing are probably inevitable, but if that movie was high opera than Lawless is the ragtime band version moving to its own idiosyncratic beat. Hillcoat once again showcases a skill for down and dirty genre filmmaking thatís sublime, and while the story he and Cave are telling isnít exactly new or original that doesnít make it any less compelling. This movie shoots and scores, delivers punch after punch scoring knockouts with every blow. In short, I loved it, the final product a late August surprise worthy of being talked about, discussed and savored for the remainder of 2012.Ē
Lawless holds up remarkably well, and for the life of me I canít figure out why so many were willing, still are willing, to write it off so quickly and without discussion. Hillcoat directs with an effortless confidence I found invigorating, while the performances were strong across the board, Hardyís humongous, larger-the-life star turn particularly so. See it. Right away. I seriously doubt youíll be disappointed.
Lawless is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 2.40:1/1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and features optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
∑ Audio Commentary with Director John Hillcoat and Author Matt Bondurant Ė Outstanding, if a little dry, commentary track with Hillcoat and Bondurant waxing poetic about the film and the true story that inspired both book and movie, the pair trading insights and barbs with deadpan relish.
∑ Deleted Scenes (7:58) Ė Six deleted scenes, all interesting and all worth giving a look.
∑ Lawless: The True Story of the Wettest County in the World (21:33) Ė Above average making-of featurette containing interviews with assorted members of the cast and crew.
∑ Franklin County, Virginia: Then & Now (6:11) Ė Nice, if too short, featurette juxtaposing prohibition-era Franklin County and the people who lived there with whatís going on within the county today.
∑ The Story of the Bondurant Family (12:44) Ė Matt Bondurant on his familyís true story and how it relates to both his book as well as Hillcoatís adaptation, a lot of which is covered in the pairís audio commentary track.
∑ ďMidnight RunĒ Music Video, Willie Nelson (1:39)
Lawless is terrific. While it doesnít do a lot thatís new, it tells its story with extreme confidence and pinpoint attention to detail, offering up a plethora of explosive performances and indelible moments making it one of 2012ís more memorable cinematic offerings.