The Wettest County in the World would have totally been a lame title. Unless by “Wettest” they mean with blood. Then it’s cool.
Lawless revolves around three brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke) who become bootleggers in the South during the Prohibition. As business is booming, it attracts the attention of the local authorities who soon want a piece of the proverbial pie. One local authority in particular, played by Guy Pearce, doesn’t take all of this success so kindly.
After all of the big and glamorous Summer blockbusters come and go from the theaters, studios try their hardest to bring out any film between August and October that could be somewhat Oscar-worthy, yet, not enough due to it not being the Holiday season where all of the heavy-hitters. However, if you’re looking for something that may pack a hard-punch like all of the best Summer blockbusters this year, but yet, still have some Oscar qualities to it, then look no farther than John Hillcoat‘s latest. Trust me, it’s not THAT depressing.
If you have seen Hillcoat’s other two flicks (The Proposition and The Road), you’d know that this guy has a real sight for when it comes to making his films feel like they fit the setting, but also do something that helps the mood even-out all of the problems it may have somewhere along the line. This film definitely isn’t as grim and sinister as those other two, but there’s still enough of a tense atmosphere that Hillcoat brings to this material that got me going, even if it did seem take-off a bit too late in the game. There’s nothing new or original that Hillcoat brings to this material but the whole time I was watching, I felt like I was in the 30’s, where boot-legging was a very serious “no-no”, but everybody still went about doing it anyway.
Perhaps that was my only major complaint about this flick is that Hillcoat and Nick Cave (writer for this flick) don’t really bring anything new to this material, other than just an old-fashioned, shoot ‘em up story with drama here and there. This story can be very unpredictable but you also can’t help but think that Cave sort of chickens out on some of the more darker elements to this story that could have been developed more, and actually came together at the end of the flick when all hell breaks loose. Other than Hillcoat’s style, this flick feels like it could have done by anybody else which is a disappointment because after seeing what these guys have been able to do in the past, I was expecting to be totally knocked out of my seat with something cool that I have never seen before in a story like this. This definitely won’t be getting any looks in the writing and directing department, but with a film this fun, I don’t really think it matters.
So yeah, the film does take awhile to get up-and-moving but once it actually does, it’s a whole bunch of unpredictable fun that reminded me a bit of Public Enemies, but without the terrible Southern accents via Christian Bale. It seems to me that the sight of a 30’s-era Tommy Gun in someone’s hands is a lot cooler, than an 21st century AK-47 in someone’s hands and that somewhat of a fact, stands true with this flick as there is a lot of shooting, bleeding, killing, double-crossing, and a whole bunch of violence to really make people squirm right in their seats. Much like The Proposition, this film isn’t as based around it’s violence as you would expect from all of the advertising for it. But whenever the violence does come into play with this story it’s just brutal, bloody, and amped with a whole bunch of sadistic energy that you could only get from a story that gets very bleak, very quick. Even if this is familiar territory Cave and Hillcoat are covering here, the story itself still leaves a whole bunch of surprises for us to see and that’s what really got me in the end because when the shit really starts hitting the fan late in the game, I really felt like the story could have gone anywhere and was just about to do so. Problem is, it sort of does and doesn’t, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourselves.
A lot of people seeing all of the advertising for this flick are seeing some dramatic heavy-hitters like Pearce and Oldman, as well as some fast-rising stars like Hardy and Chastain, will probably be terribly shocked by the casting of Shia LaBeouf leading the whole film, but have no fear people, he’s not all that bad. Maybe that’s not so warm to hear considering in every movie review I do for one of his flicks, I always give him the benefit of the doubt and talk about how good he is (Disturbia: check, Transfomers: check, Transformers 2: OK, I won’t even go there), but here, he actually is as the young and wild-cat, Jack. LaBeouf, out of everybody else here, probably does the best with his Southern-ish accent and can nail a lot of his dramatic parts very well, especially when his character is really pushed to the edge, by the end. Hopefully this flick shows that LaBeouf can be taken seriously as an actor, or if worse comes to worse, it could just show that it’s only a matter of time until we get that Even Stevens reunion we’ve all been waiting so anxiously for. Either way, it’s a win-win for him.
Another great performance comes from none other than Tom Hardy as his older brother, Forrest. Hardy, as we all know and have seen in the past years, is a total bad-ass when it comes to his roles and takes all of his character’s, and gives them this edge to them that not only makes them intimidating as hell but also very lovable in the long-run. Forrest is a great example of that acting skill because we see Hardy go for this no nonsense talk, brooding character that may not say much in his simple way of life, but still gets our appreciation whenever he has to knock someone’s teeth in with one of his lethal brass knuckles. He may not be in the film just as much as LaBeouf, but he still creates enough of a presence to make him feel like a lead in his own right.
The last great performance to high-light is none other than Guy Pearce as the terribly distasteful city cop, Charlie Rakes. Pearce seems like he’s getting more and more juicer roles as of late, and I think Rakes may be his best one so far because this character is just so damn unlikable that you really want him to die or something bad to just happen to him whenever his groomed, eyebrow-less face shows up on-screen. This is a black-as-coal character that makes no mistakes in being the ever-loving shit out of everybody he has a problem with and makes no apologies, either. This is just one sick son of a bitch that doesn’t give a shit what you think of him, he’s just going to do what he wants and I honestly couldn’t get enough of this character (I mean, that is why he gets the pleasure of being my poster for this review). It may be a tad too soon to start talking about some Oscar talk for him, but you never know because this is one of those “evil performances from a character actor” that the Academy usually eats up.
As for everybody else that I failed to mention, they’re all pretty good, too. Jessica Chastain plays a lovely gal named Maggie, who seems to attract the eyes of Forrest and gives a good performance, even if she does seem a little wasted here. Another piece of wasted talent (I think) is Mia Wasikowska as Jack’s little, love-interest. Both of them seem like they were just here for some female appeal for this flick and even though they don’t do much to keep this plot moving, they still do their best with what they’re given. That’s all that really counts. Another performance I was slightly disappointed by was Gary Oldman‘s as a notorious gangster, Floyd Banner. Oldman is great at playing a villain with a conscience, which he does very well here, but he isn’t in the film for more than 8 minutes which is a real surprise since this guy can really hit it out-of-the-park when he chooses to. But something also tells me he allowed those duties to be left to Pearce, and thank him for that. Almost like a passing of the torch for character acting, if you will.
Consensus: There’s nothing new or original about this take on a pair of bootleggers in the 30’s, but Lawless still provides a good story, with some very good performances from the ensemble cast, and plenty of action and violence to satisfy anybody’s late-Summer needs. Just make sure that THIS Tom Hardy doesn’t tell The Dark Knight Rises Tom Hardy you weren’t fully satisfied, then you may be screwed.