Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Lawless" (2012) - Movie Review

There is no wonder that John Hillcoat and Nick Cave got attracted to this story of Bondurant brothers who carried out their business of moonshine in the prohibition in Franklin County, Virginia. It has all the characters Hillcoat went for in his “The Proposition”, a violent poem. Yet “Lawless” is like a wrong rhythm for a great song. It times and fail on most of its duration and brings in characters that exist that are purely driven by words in a screenplay. In the process of providing another violent poetry, Hillcoat misses soul in this otherwise good film.

Forrest Bondurant is played by Tom Hardy and if he was muscular giant in “The Dark Knight Rises”, here is a gigantic mass of raw power and ruthlessness here. He is the eldest of the Bondurant reigning the business with his brother Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke) the second in command for his muscle. The youngest and who is not built for this trade of violence is Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf). Jack narrates the story of how Forrest believes that he is immortal. For a man of such arrogance in philosophy, he is fairly calm. He splurges power without a shred of hesitation when it is required. They rule hard and Franklin County’s law officers are fine by it. 

In comes Special Deputy Charley Rakes played by Guy Pearce dressed up perfectly but everything about his face is turned to represent a vile creature. He does not seem to have an eyebrow and he parts his hair in the centre (more like he shaved it). To add to the madness is he applies black gel to it. His voice is like snake’s hiss amplified enough to get Heath Ledger’s Joker in the mix as well. As you can see Guy Pearce dedicates himself totally into this devious, vicious and psychopathic man yet the drive for his behaviour leaves you pondering.

Of course the drive is money for both Forrest Bondurant and Charley Rakes but both of them never really appear to spend it. At least Rakes does with his prostitutes and suits but Forrest appear to store it. Jack of course gets tired of being treated like a kid and wants to be up the league yet he does not have the guts to do it. “Lawless” begins with the premise and establishes it that Forrest Bondurant an indestructible man who does not bow down to anyone. His human side has a sliver of a chance when he hires Jessica Chastain’s Maggie, a dancer from Chicago as the waitress for his bar. 

As much as Hillcoat’s films are visceral and gory, there is a character or situation that carries the serenity and peace in this uncivilized world. In “The Proposition”, it was Emily Watson’s character and in “The Road”, it is the son. He has two angelic women at his disposal here with Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska and their characters are either too silent or have powerless dialogues. Forrest’s character especially never becomes full. He is as cruel and sick as Charley Rakes but he is the kind who does not start a fight and back out of one either. He would bring hell to the people who wronged him in a way that is beyond unimaginable. The way he goes after the people who slit his throat is one such. That brings to the fact of how he endures throat slits, gun shot and Spanish flu to feel that he is immortal. I would have loved to see that side of perspective in a much more elaborate manner. 

I have to admire Shia LaBeouf for choosing this character as the kid really does want to make a name in the acting department. He plays his character with the childishness and his aspiration to live up to his brother and come above being bullied is the angle Hillcoat goes for that does not have the trajectory it shoots.

Yet the film’s single most display of soul comes through the first elongated burst of violent scene when Charley Rakes beats the crap out of Jack Bondurant. That scene while viewed as something of weakness in the Jack’s character brings out an emotion in us that is beyond just sympathy for the atrocity and gore caused to this helpless individual. We see inhumanity in a fashion that tingles our inner nerves of terror, sensation and empathy all at once. How does John Hillcoat with Nick Cave achieves it is what makes him a director I look forward to direct several films. Not like “Lawless” though.

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