By far the best film this year!……I think. I’m quite indecisive so a solid decision is unlikely. But for now I’m pretty certain.
The trailer for Lawless, or more accurately Tom Hardy in the trailer for Lawless had me chomping at the bit to see it. And I could barely contain my excitement when I headed (raced) into the theatre.
Both the screenplay and soundtrack are provided by Nick Cave, a man I thought made music and movie soundtracks but turns out he does just about everything a man can do in film having produced, directed, written and acted on several earlier projects.
I love the story; it’s exciting and emotive. And while it’s not an original story by any means, a typical gangster plot really, it’s definitely not your typical gangster film. Set apart by its warm multi-faceted characters and well written script. This isn’t your average shoot em’ up bloodbath with one-dimensional characters. In fact there’s very little violence considering it’s an 18 certificate that falls within two typically violent genres; the western and the gangster film. Though don’t go in to it thinking there’s no violence at all; when it’s violent its stomach churning. Lawless is driven by its characters, and at the centre of that are the Bondurant brothers.
The film’s based on a true story, adapted from Matthew Bondurant’s historical novel The Wettest County in the World about three brothers during prohibition in the depression bootlegging moonshine (liquor) in Franklin County, Virginia. Jack (Shia Labeouf), the youngest brother and the films anchor tries to prove himself to his older brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) by selling their liquor quicker and in larger quantities to earn them a bigger buck and step out from under their shadow, but when Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes into town the brothers are met with trouble. Threatening their business and the Bondurant legend the brothers take a stand to protect what’s theirs.
It’s the incredible story-telling and well written script that stands out making Lawless so memorable for me, but that’s not all there is to love. Everything about it, from the soundtrack, sets and vast landscapes, every detail in location and costume, and the stellar casting fit together like a puzzle; perfectly.
I had my doubts at first about Shia LeBeouf, not because he’s not a good actor (he more than proves himself in A Guide to Recognising Your Saints) but it didn’t seem a believable fit with the imposing presence of Hardy and Clarke; both big guys in personality and stature. But when you watch the film you realise he’s not meant to be like them. He’s supposed to be different, more ambitious but weaker. His brothers are the ones who save his ass, and who better to do that than Tom Hardy. While Shia Labeouf gives a great performance its Tom Hardy who steals the show, owning every scene he’s in. It’s a role unlike any I’ve seen him in before, proving his talent and versatility, while delivering that strength, physically and of character present with in most of the characters he plays. He’s the gentleman and the brute rolled into one. And that’s hard to pull off. But he does so effortlessly. As Forrest Bondurant he’s a man of few words. But he’s the back bone and driving force of the brothers and runs everything. But underneath that guarded tough exterior is gentleness (His eyes give him away) brought out by Maggie (Jessica Chastain) who escapes from Chicago for a quiet life only to fall in the thick of a war. Chastain is stunning as ever, and though her role is minor she leaves a big impression on both the audience and Forrest Bondurant. All round it’s a great cast, Gary Oldman owns his scenes, all two of them, and Mia Wasikowska as Bertha Minnix (Jacks love interest) really surprised me. I’m not her biggest fan after a disappointing performance in Jayne Eyre but her performance here makes up for that and is in fact one of my favourites in the film, and she gels well with LaBeouf. Jason Clarke, who plays eldest brother Howard has a fairly minor role compared to his brothers but nonetheless holds his own and makes his scenes as engaging to watch as any other. And finally on my list of mentionable’s is Guy Pearce as the disturbing lecherous, slimy and down right villainous Special Agent Charlie Rakes. This is the best role I’ve seen him in since Memento, another unforgettable role for him (see what I did there?). He’s wicked and unruly and yet a man of the law. He completely immerses himself in the role, frighteningly so, but I hope there are more great roles like this for him in the future.
The soundtrack is immense. I absolutely love it; every song reminds me of the ‘old west’. It conjures up images of vast desert landscapes, dust clouds rising in the wake of speeding 1930’s Ford trucks, small dirt covered towns and empty gas stations with their lone tobacco chewing attendants. It’s very 1930’s but with a contemporary feel. Songs are ‘souped-up’ and revamped but at the heart of them is still that sound of the era but with that Nick Cave signature all over it. Covers of Captain Beefheart, Townes Van Zandt, Grandaddy, and Link Wray songs are there, and Velvet Undergrounds ‘White Light, White Heat’ is reworked and sang by Ralph Stanley, the incredible bluegrass singer who transports this song back to the depression era. Emmylou Harris, The Bootleggers, Willy Nelson, and others also contribute.
It’s a great listen, as a stand alone album as well as the films accompaniment. My personal favourite track is Cosmonaut which plays along to one of my favourite scenes between Bertha and Jack. It’s an uplifting track, probably the only happy song on the album and I’ve been playing it constantly since the soundtracks release this week.
Filming took place in Georgia in authentic disused buildings dating back as early as the 1920/30’s. The Red Oak Creek Bridge used in the climactic shootout dates back even further to 1840 built by a freed slave. It’s all authentic, the ‘Cotton pickin’ Fairground in Gay, Georgia made stage for most of the film. It really looks the part, and while the film tells of historical events the setting itself has historical relevance.
Everything is in keeping with that era. Its colour pallet of natural earth tones runs through from the locations, settings and into costumes, the only hint of colour infused through Maggie (Chastain) with her fiery red hair, red lips, and vibrant costumes. She brightens up the place. And we mustn’t forget the cars. The famous Ford V-8’s, a standard for moonshine bootleggers and in films set during the depression. These cars play a big part in Lawless, providing wheels for their business from the beat up run down V-8’s to the height of the brothers wealth in upgraded ‘souped-up’ shiny Ford models. There’s a great transition, these swanky model cars infusing some of the common gangster arrogance and show boating into an otherwise quiet hick town.
Seeing Lawless has been a film highlight for me this year and in many. So much of it stands out and is unforgettable. Nick Cave is on my ‘Look Out For List’ now and I intend to watch his earlier penned film The Proposition, also directed by John Hillcoat who I forgot to mention directed Lawless too (and so he too will be on my ‘Look Out For List’.) I love Australian cinema so Lawless, penned and directed by two Australians, with Aussie Guy Pearce starring, is one of the best, reconfirming how good Australian films are but are majorly overlooked.
A list of Australian films and TV I recommend.
Under belly (TV series)
Heartbreak High (TV series I used to watch as a teenager)
Does Home and Away count? I watch it religiously.