Lawless Is A Film To See Again and Again – Review

Director: John Hillcoat

Based on The Wettest County in the World (2008) by Matt Bondurant.

Why are you interested in this adaptation?

Elena-

I want to see this movie because John Hillcoat is directing it.  I cannot overstate how profoundly I love The Proposition.  I will probably watch every movie the man ever directs just to see if he can match that one, even if the brilliance of his Western was an accident.  Lightning can strike twice in the same place, right?  But I feel like The Proposition was not accidentally brilliant; I feel like The Road, his other directorial effort, will more likely turn out to be the anomaly in his catalogue of films. That movie was controlled by a studio who did not want to risk a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel’s adaptation on a film with “atmosphere.”  R rating or not, they weren’t going to allow any barbecued babies or long, lingering (what they thought the pleb’s would consider “boring”) shots of a burned out world, and that lack of those shots and details were what caused The Road to fail as a film.  So I would be interested in seeing it only because of the director.

However.  Other reasons:  Tom Hardy. Gary Oldman. Guy Pearce. Shia Labeouf. It’s pretty much a man-doberge cake.  Yum.

Rachel-

I’m actually not into gangster movies unless they’re directed by Guy Richie. They tend to be a little too much “reality” for me. The “reality” of just how horribly and creatively violent people can be. I also don’t like war movies. (Hyperbolic violence is my flavor. Tarantino. I like it when it is highly choreographed.)

HOWEVER, I’m a sucker for Piedmont movies about hillbillies because it’s where I’m from (ish). I enjoy parsing the accents. This is why I suffered through the bleakness of Winter’s Bone and gained a whole lot of respect for Jennifer Lawrence before the atrocity that was The Hunger Games put her on everyone’s map. Plus Gary Oldman. I’m also willing to let Tom Hardy mumble his way through another movie in my presence and to watch him and Shia mumble at each other while sweating. They’re basically both the same guy, right?

What would make it awesome?

Elena-

It will be awesome if it lives up to my expectations as a proper follow-up to Hillcoat’s debut.  The reviews I’ve seen give me hope.  “Atmospheric” has been tossed about—a good sign.

So, for those of you who have not seen The Proposition, what I am looking for from this film is a beautifully framed, visually expansive movie with unapologetic brutality and thoughtfully gray morals.  No heroes, but no all-black villains, either.  And gloriously violent.  That combination of elements, well-constructed and well-executed, would catapult it to the top of my best films of the year so far list.

Rachel-

Aw hell, I don’t know! I saw the trailer, and it looks like it’s going to be hillbillies shooting gangsters and drinking moonshine. Sounds great! I take special joy in “period” movies that have really accurate sets and costumes. So, it will be awesome if everyone looks especially smelly.

What would make it suck?

Elena-

It will suck if the movie is all action.  What makes any really epic revenge tale (which this one looks like it will be) great is the slow burn.  I am patient with films which take the time to breathe but bored by movies that should take the time for character/setting development and don’t. I mean, it’s one thing to give me a movie like The Raid: Redemption which sets up a plot inside of two minutes and proceeds to be nothing but action for the next 90—I’m fine with that.  What I’m not fine with is a movie that is more than gimmicky action but doesn’t take the time to develop anything; Public Enemies comes to mind as a recent disappointment in that style.

Rachel-

If all these non-Southerners (and non-American, sheesh!) really SUCK at their regional accents. That shit will send me right over the edge if I have to listen to True Blood style accent mangling. I’m talking Ewan McGregor (whom I love and adore, forever!) in pretty much any movie in which he was required to have an American or American Southern accent. WTF?

Additional thoughts on casting/production?

Elena-

I’m really curious to see how Tom Hardy does playing an American, and if this role is a bit more nuanced for him than most of his recent ones have been…more of a character and less of a smart-ass action hero.  He sold me on his acting skills with Bronson and has not done much that required a stretch since.  I’m curious as well to see how Shia LaBeouf handles a grown-up part in a film made for grown-ups.  I will forgive him any number of Transformers sequels if they enable him to make artistic movies, and he turns out to have a knack for character work.

Nick Cave wrote the screenplay again (he also wrote the screenplay for The Proposition) and will no doubt have a hand in the scoring.  That makes me happy. Nick Cave is a weird dude of many talents and perversions, and his involvement ups the odds of my getting what I want from this movie.  Also I expect the music will be extra-fab with him arranging it.

Rachel-

Tom Hardy yada yada snore. I’m interested in seeing that kid from Holes do his best to pretend he was never in Indy 4 or Transformers 11. Gary Oldman is always a huge draw; it’s a pleasure to watch an actor like him transform himself. From the trailers I gather he’s going to be rather despicable, that’ll be fun!

Mostly I am seeing this movie because Elena wanted to, and I’m making her watch Dredd later this month so she’s making me see this one. Full disclosure, folks. You like it.

Reaction to film:

Elena-

LOVE.

This movie was what I wanted it to be.  It was full of characters, it was richly set with beautiful, lingering shots of the back-hills scenery, it was shockingly violent, it was funny in ways a movie with this storyline has no business being funny…I just enjoyed every second of it and want to see it again already.

Lawless felt like the less awkward, more commercially viable cousin of The Proposition.  It had the film-making elements that made me love Hillcoat’s first movie so much, but it was less bleak, and less ambiguous as to who was hero and who villain.  And it was set in America in a time that is currently in vogue rather than making a Western out of the Australian outback.  So the gorgeous cinematography, the patient pace, the spot-on musical selections, and the unexpectedly quotable script were all there, but in a packaging that the average moviegoer will respond to.

I was surprised to see Rachel call this a gangster movie, because it seemed to me like more of a back-woods resistance fighter movie—if nothing else because the obvious heroes were not gangsters themselves.  This instinct turned out to be correct, as the Bounderant brothers were certainly not gangsters.  They made charming anti-heroes, of three local boys making good in what was theoretically an illegal operation but which the local law bought into, until they got bought by some townies.

Shia LaBeouf had the traditional coming of age arc, from trembling youth to suave and unrepentant outlaw.  He was fine in the role, though it didn’t seem like it held many challenges (nor was it meant to).  He shone in the comic moments, but probably the best scene was the climactic ending, perhaps because he was so effective in the more light-hearted moments.  Tom Hardy stole the show for me, though, as the taciturn Forest.  He said as much with grunts and “hm” as other characters did with monologues and soliloquies.  I thought the whole production was well-cast.  I didn’t notice anyone’s accent at all, so that tells me they were competently to well-handled, though I confess I don’t know enough about Virginia hill accents to tell you how nuanced the linguistic performances were.  I could have used more Gary Oldman just for the sake of more Gary Oldman in pinstripes and bowler hats, but he wasn’t really called for in the story.

As I hoped, the movie runs a slow burn to an epic conflagration, though it does have moments of conflict and action in the run-up that keep layering the tension and upping the ante.  Happily, the ending delivers on the promise of those scenes.  The violence never feels gratuitously gory, but it is shocking and visceral.  You don’t always see it coming, and even when you did the scene plays out in a way that wasn’t how you expected.  Hillcoat pulls no punches in those moments, and he excels in making you feel what is happening on-screen.  Can’t lie; I squirmed more than once.

Also the music was awesome. Not as weird as I expected, though the score is full of Cave’s consonant sounds to ratchet up the tension, but most of the music was traditional or intentional replicas.

All in all, Lawless succeeded for me on pretty much every level, and it has enough commercially friendly elements for me to give it an unqualified recommendation.

Rachel-

Hot damn, y’all! I liked it!

It’s beautifully filmed in what looks like North Carolina? It’s got old timey cars, rattletrap huts, sweaty hats, hypnotic hymnals, and A MAGICAL CARDIGAN. Yes, folks, this is not a film about bootlegger hillbillies in Virginia as you were promised. IT’S BETTER. It’s a film about a magical cardigan that renders its wearer immortal!

Yup! Mystery Solved! Frodo’s almost forgotten mithril armor has been forged anew! It is now The Cardigan of Immortality!!! Capable of keeping its wearer alive through all manner of plausibly red-neck near death experiences! Never knew a cardigan was standard issue during WWI, did ya?

Why, it is SO impressive that had Joey the War Horse been given a standard issue US Cardigan (oh, England!), the damn horse would have FLOWN around Europe in his search for the boy Albert, and we wouldn’t have had to sit through tedious friend-making in France or tank-vaulting in…Germany?

What was I talking about?

Oh Yea, Lawless. It was good. The accents weren’t half bad. Sometimes they got a little yeehaw, but for the most part I was OK with them. They weren’t exactly Piedmont accents, but they weren’t twangy bullshit noises, either! Huzzah!

Art direction was stellar. Acting was top-notch, though there was very little Gary Oldman (saaadness), and Tom Hardy didn’t have that many LINES, though his physical acting was great…except for when he tromp-walked around like Bane. Is that just how he walks? Shia played the same earnest kid he always does, but with a southern accent. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska’s characters seemed tacked on for plot development, but their scenes were generally welcome respites from the grimy, sweaty gun-toting scenes.

Surprisingly this film has some genuinely funny moments. Tom Hardy’s character “Forest” is a man of sometimes comically few words. Enjoyable and well-made. It IS a little slow…but not tedious. The tension builds and builds and builds some more, and you squirm a little in your seat in horror of what is to come. I checked my watch exactly once at the hour and a half point just to see if I could make it until the end of the film without having to leave my seat. I have a hard time watching movies that keep you in that extended state of tension. Masterfully done.

If westerns and “gritty” anti-heroes with limited vocabularies isn’t your thing, then you can skip it. Gary Oldman makes only one gangster appearance, tommy-gun in tow. Guy Pearce’s villain is tragically forced in a cast of much more nuanced characters, but it has a satisfying ending (a surprise ending for me! I was sure it was going to be bleak) and a lovely romanticizing of 1920s hill country living. Less gangster and more Piedmont Western.

Let’s hope Elena can enjoy Dredd as much as I enjoyed Lawless!

1 thought on “Lawless Is A Film To See Again and Again – Review

  1. sleepingtrees37

    This review is awesome! I love how you set it up. The more I hear about Lawless, the more I want to see it. I know one of my Dish co-workers really loved it, and I usually trust his opinion on movies. I don’t really have time these days to go to the movie theater, so I’ll probably just stick this at the top of my Blockbuster @ Home queue. That way, it’ll show up in my mailbox as soon as it comes out on DVD. In the meantime, I think I might have to haveBB@H send me The Proposition, since I’ve never seen it!

    Reply

Leave a Reply