You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Movies

  • Lawsuit accuses entertainment figures of sex abuse
    A man who has accused "X-Men" director Bryan Singer of sexually abusing him when he was a teen sued three more entertainment industry figures Monday, claiming they also molested him.
  • Staggered releases push summer movies into April
    Summer 2014 is coming early for Hollywood. Studios used to release their big summer films starting Memorial Day weekend, at the end of May. In the past decade, it’s crept up earlier in the month.
  • Experience fuels ‘Transcendence’
    For more than a decade, cinematographer Wally Pfister brought director Christopher Nolan’s cinematic visions to life. Now, he’s the one calling the shots.
Advertisement
AP
This film image released by The Weinstein Company shows from left, Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf in a scene from "Lawless." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Richard Foreman, Jr.)

Review: 'Lawless' a visceral, fitful fever dream

If you can accept the notion that Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke could be brothers during this century or any other, you might be able to immerse yourself in the artfully pulpy allure of "Lawless," based on the true story of the bootlegging Bondurants.

Director John Hillcoat's ultra-violent drama plays like a hot, sweaty, delusional fever dream and is similarly fitful. It can be visceral and operatic, beautiful and brutal but also slow and overlong. The look and the sound of it are the most effective parts, and the most intrinsically tied: Singer-songwriter Nick Cave, a longtime friend and collaborator of fellow Australian Hillcoat (on "The Proposition" and "The Road"), wrote the script and co-wrote the score, so there's a peculiar kind of dark flavor, humor and musicality to the cadence of the dialogue. No one bursts into song, but you suspect they might and sometimes hope they would.

"Lawless" is based on "The Wettest County in the World," Matt Bondurant's fictional tale of his grandfather, Jack, and his brothers, moonshine masters who kept the Virginia hills good n' liquored up during Prohibition. The eldest, Howard (Clarke), is a volatile and frequently inebriated veteran of the first World War. The middle brother, Forrest (Hardy), is the quietly commanding leader of both the business and the family. And then there's Jack (LaBeouf), the youngest who's eager to prove himself. He's the most ambitious, which makes him the most dangerous.

The Bondurant boys find their tidy little operation threatened when a corrupt Chicago lawman named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) swoops in to shut them down. He's as nasty as he is nattily dressed, and Pearce once again seems to relish playing this type of precise villain. Also entering the brothers' lives, seemingly because the story needed some sort of female figure, are two very different women. Maggie (Jessica Chastain) arrives out of nowhere one day from The Big City with a Secret Past and immediately starts functioning as both the waitress at the brothers' restaurant/headquarters and Forrest's obligatory love interest. Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) is the modest and pious daughter of the town's preacher who catches Jack's eye — which makes no sense, given that he's a wannabe gangster with flashy tastes.

"Lawless" allows neither of these fine, versatile actresses to display what they can do fully. It is mainly about the men, and the primal ways in which they survive and seek revenge. Yet it also squanders the formidable presence of Gary Oldman in just a few scenes as the big-city mobster who Jack aspires to be like one day. He is gone for large, inexplicable chunks of time, and he is sorely missed.

Still, there is Hardy, who is always hulking and intense and impossible to stop watching. Sure, his accent is a little thick and folksy but he seems to get the melody that exists within the script — and at least you can understand him better here than you could when he had that contraption strapped to his face to play Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises." As LaBeouf continues efforting to show he's a grown-up now and can do serious character work, Hardy shows up and simply dominates.

"Lawless," a Weinstein Co. release, is rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. Running time: 110 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Advertisement