Lawless is the latest film by John Hillcoat and the 3rd film he has done written by the great Nick Cave. This time it’s a crossbred of a western and a gangster film, both which are genres Hillcoat and Cave respond too and are clearly fans of. Hillcoat has stated in interviews that after his film The Road (also his best film to date), he was looking for a gangster film to do as his
Lawless is based on historical novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant. Matt is the grandson of main character Jack (played by Shia LaBland). The film is about the Bondurant brothers, who are selling moonshine during prohibition in Franklin County, Virginia. They have a gas station which is the front for their operations even though it’s an open secret in the county.
The film starts with Jack witnessing a mob killing by Floyd Banner (played by Gary Oldman in a sadly small role). Soon afterwards Maggie(played by Jessica Chastain) becomes a waitress for the bat their gas station. The special deputy officer Charley Rakes (played by Guy Pearce in the most terrifying hair) and wants a cut of all money the bootleggers get, the older brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) kicks the shit out of Charley and threatens to kill him if he ever returns.
Forrest meets with other bootleggers to start a network of operations. 2 of these other bootleggers meet with Forrest (they were suppose to meet the other brother Jason but he gets drunk and misses the appointment), they rough up Maggie so Forrest kicks the shit of them. They come back later and slit Forrest’s throat, while Forrest is recovering Jack starts a deal in Chicago selling liquor. They are eventually double crossed by men working for Rakes and it becomes a territory war.
When the film came out it got relatively mixed to good reviews, even on this site it got a relatively poor review from another reviewer. I personally thought it was very well made gangster film on the lower levels of the operation; which is so rarely depicted in films. This year also had the masterful Killing Them Softly which did something similar but in a much more contemporary setting. I personally have a soft spot for well-made crime films and Lawless really worked more for me than a lot of people.
The overall cast of Lawless is pretty good even the normally awful Shia Labland is pretty decent as the youngest of the brothers. Tom Hardy does a strange Brando as mother goose performance but somehow it works. The real sad thing is Gary Oldman is wasted in his little screen time but I guess it’s a small role. Guy Pearce as always expected is outstanding as the truly menacing Charlie Rakes. Jessica Chastain holds her own in a film that is really about men even though I don’t think she as great of an actress as her current star status suggests, the films she has been in are better than her acting ability.
Lawless as expected with anything Nick Cave is involved it has a wonderful soundtrack by him and Warren Ellis (of Dirty Three, Bad Seeds, Grinderman fame). This time they however include people like Mark Lanegan and vintage country singers like Emmylou Garris, Ralph Stanley and even Willie Nelson. The film’s soundtrack will probably be what the film is best remembered for but it has a great soundtrack featuring bluegrass versions of Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart songs.
The film was a lot better than it was given credit this year, it’s not one of the 10 best films of the year but any means but it’s certainly worth watching. It boosts strong performances, interesting subject matter, great shootout at the end and an expected great soundtrack (which I bought after I saw the fllm a couple months ago).