×

Lawless

Moonshine, machismo and rivers of gore make for a heady brew in "Lawless," Australian helmer John Hillcoat's stylishly assembled Prohibition-era gangster pic.

With:
Jack Bondurant - Shia LaBeouf
Forrest Bondurant - Tom Hardy
Howard Bondurant - Jason Clarke
Charley Rakes - Guy Pearce
Maggie Beauford - Jessica Chastain
Bertha Minnix - Mia Wasikowska
Cricket Pate - Dane DeHaan
Danny - Chris McGarry
Mason Wardell - Tim Tolin
Floyd Banner - Gary Oldman
Deputy Henry Abshire - Lew Temple
Deputy Jeff Richards - Marcus Hester
Sheriff Hodges - Bill Camp
Tizwell Minnix - Alex Van
Gummy Walsh - Noah Taylor

Moonshine, machismo and rivers of gore make for a heady brew in “Lawless,” Australian helmer John Hillcoat’s stylishly assembled Prohibition-era gangster pic, and his second American-set film after 2009’s post-apocalyptic ramble “The Road.” Redolent of Hillcoat’s previous collaborations with musician-screenwriter Nick Cave, this classy genre piece doesn’t quite leave an emotional burn in the gut the way “The Proposition” did, but for those with a strong stomach for onscreen violence, it will hit the spot. The Weinstein Co. rolls out the barrel this fall.

It’s 1931, two years shy of the repeal of Prohibition, and the prolific liquor production in Franklin County, Va., has earned it the sobriquet “the wettest county in the world.” That’s also the title of the semi-fictional 2009 source book by Matt Bondurant, chronicling the legendary exploits of his grandfather Jack and two great-uncles, Forrest and Howard.

Popular on Variety

A close-knit family after the Spanish flu epidemic killed off their parents and nearly took Forrest two years back, the three “difficult to kill” brothers run a deep-woods restaurant/feed store/gas station that serves as a front for their real business, distributing cases of hooch around the area. Bull-necked, basso-voiced middle son Forrest (Tom Hardy) is the brains of the operation, while shell-shocked, dipsomaniac war vet Howard (Jason Clarke) rides shotgun as backup muscle. As the youngest and least given to stabbing and beating people, Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is usually stuck in the role of driver or lookout, but longs to win his brothers’ respect.

After years of keeping the local law safely in their pockets, the Bondurant boys find their apple-brandy cart upset when special deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) arrives in town from Chicago to crack down on the local trade. Of all the colorful characters the protean and ever-welcome Pearce has played, Rakes may be his most baroque creation yet: A fastidious dandy with a taste for dove-gray gloves, invisible eyebrows and hair ruthlessly parted and slicked back to make him look like Dagwood on steroids, Rakes is a total psychopath, particularly prone to violence when anyone needles his sore spot and dares to call him a nancy.

Early on in the proceedings, Rakes gives Jack a major ass-whupping, and the brothers vow revenge. The tit-for-tat tactical strikes between the two sides gradually escalate, doled out in regular screenwriting beats. One of the worst sees two of Rakes men slitting Forrest’s throat (miraculously, he survives) and raping Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), a former Chicago fan dancer who’s now working as a waitress at the brothers’ station in order to escape some never-specified problems up north.

Cave’s adaptation doesn’t do an entirely satisfying job of servicing all the characters and storylines. Howard isn’t much more than a ghostly, civil presence throughout, and the film rather criminally underuses Gary Oldman as notorious gangster Floyd Banner, who gets a fabulous entrance but then is more or less forgotten. One is reminded that “Boardwalk Empire” has mined similar territory already, but with the luxury of 26 hours of television at its disposal to develop its characters.

The love stories — between Forrest and Maggie, and between Jack and pixie-ish church girl Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) — provide some sweet respite between bouts of bloodshed, but the women aren’t integral to the story. Fortunately, the actresses have enough charisma, as well as two of the finest complexions in the biz, to stand up to the strong male cast.

Technical package is faultless, from Benoit Delhomme’s painterly, brown-hued lensing on the new Arri Alexa digital camera and Dylan Tichenor’s fluid editing to Chris Kennedy’s finely textured production design. Particularly worthy of note is the subtlety of Margot Wilson’s costumes; the mint-colored frock Chastain gets to wear for her entrance is cut to period specs yet right on trend for 2012, and putting Forrest in a wheat-colored cardigan to give him a professorial, almost foppish air is a small stroke of genius.

Cherry on top is an inventive score composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and performed by the Bootleggers, a lineup that includes Bad Seed Martyn Casey and Groove Armada’s George Vjestic; together they deliver an insinuating hillbilly-punk sound that’s neither period pastiche nor anachronism, but something deliciously other. A cover of Lou Reed’s “White Light/White Heat,” sung by bluegrass singer Ralph Stanley, reps one of several highlights. Integrated seamlessly with the sound design and editing, the music feels of a piece with the film’s impressive total effect.

Lawless

Production: A Weinstein Co. release presented with Yuk Films and Benaroya Pictures of an Annapurna Pictures, Douglas Wick/Lucy Fisher, Blumhansonallen Films production. Produced by Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Megan Ellison, Michael Benaroya. Executive producers, Dany Wolf, Rachel Shane, Jason Blum, Scott Hanson, Cassian Elwes, Laura Rister, Robert Ogden Barnum, Ted Schipper, Randy Manis, Ben Sachs. Co-producers, John Allen, Matthew Budman. Co-executive producers, Clayton Young, James Lejsek. Directed by John Hillcoat. Screenplay, Nick Cave, based on the book "The Wettest County in the World" by Matt Bondurant.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, widescreen, HD), Benoit Delhomme; editor, Dylan Tichenor; music, Cave, Warren Ellis; music supervisors, David Sardy, Jordan Tappis; production designer, Chris Kennedy; art director, Gershon Ginsburg; set decorator, Maria Nay; costume designer, Margot Wilson; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Lisa Pinero; sound designer, Leslie Shatz; supervising sound editors, Christopher Eakins, Robert C. Jackson; re-recording mixers, Chris David, Brad Sherman; visual effects supervisors, Bill Taylor, Mark Stetson, Dick Edwards, Mark O. Forker; visual effects, Zoic Studios, Invisible Effects, Talking Bird Pictures, DIVE; stunt coordinator, Mickey Giacomazzi; assistant director, Walter Gasparovic; second unit director, Dany Wold; second unit camera, Manuel Billeter; casting, Francine Maisler, Kathleen Driscoll-Mohler. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 19, 2012. Running time: 115 MIN.

With: Jack Bondurant - Shia LaBeouf
Forrest Bondurant - Tom Hardy
Howard Bondurant - Jason Clarke
Charley Rakes - Guy Pearce
Maggie Beauford - Jessica Chastain
Bertha Minnix - Mia Wasikowska
Cricket Pate - Dane DeHaan
Danny - Chris McGarry
Mason Wardell - Tim Tolin
Floyd Banner - Gary Oldman
Deputy Henry Abshire - Lew Temple
Deputy Jeff Richards - Marcus Hester
Sheriff Hodges - Bill Camp
Tizwell Minnix - Alex Van
Gummy Walsh - Noah Taylor

More Film

  • The Speech

    Charades Rolls Into EFM with Pre-Sales on 'The Rosemaker,' 'The Speech' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Charades, the sales firm launched three years ago by former execs at Wild Bunch, Gaumont and Studiocanal, will roll into the Berlinale’s European Film Market with a raft of pre-sales on anticipated French projects, including “The Rosemaker” with Catherine Frot and Laurent Tirard’s “The Speech.” Charades will unveil the promos of both films, as well [...]

  • Dexter Fletcher73rd British Academy Film Awards,

    'Rocketman' Filmmaker Dexter Fletcher to Direct 'The Saint' Reboot (EXCLUSIVE)

    After the success of its Elton John biopic “Rocketman,” Paramount has set filmmaker Dexter Fletcher to direct another high-profile project for the studio. Fletcher will helm “The Saint,” a reboot of its 1997 action thriller that starred Val Kilmer. The globe-trotting adventure is based on the 1920s novel series written by Leslie Charteris. Seth Grahame-Smith [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Jury Deliberations Begin in Harvey Weinstein Rape Trial

    Jury deliberations in the rape trial of Harvey Weinstein began Tuesday. After a six-week trial, a 12-member panel of New Yorkers will now decide if the former movie mogul goes free or spends the rest of his life behind bars. The case is considered to be a landmark moment for the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, [...]

  • Rory KennedyDiscovery 'Above and Beyond: NASA'S

    Boeing 737 Max Disaster Series in Works From Rory Kennedy, Imagine Documentaries (EXCLUSIVE)

    Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy is teaming with Imagine Entertainment for a new series about the tragedy and subsequent scandal over the defunct Boeing 737-Max airplane, sources tell Variety. Kennedy and her husband and producing partner, Emmy-nominated writer Mark Bailey, are teaming up with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s unscripted division at Imagine, run by Justin [...]

  • Otto Rehhagel, second from left, the

    Piece of Magic Takes Rights to Soccer Documentary 'King Otto'

    Piece of Magic Entertainment, the distributor behind recent docs “Apollo 11” and “Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love,” has picked up international theatrical distribution rights for the underdog sports tale “King Otto.” The doc follows the improbable path of the 2004 Greek National Soccer team, which went from never winning a single tournament match to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content