Director John Hillcoat’s previous collaboration with prominent musician
Nick Cave resulted in the superb Outback Western ‘The Proposition’.
Hillcoat then followed that up with a starkly affecting portrayal of the
apocalypse in his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book ‘The Road’.
With Lawless Hillcoat’s not only adapting another novel but he’s also
working from a script penned by Cave; considering these elements, it
only stands to reason to assume that Hillcoat has caught lightning in a
Featuring an ensemble cast including Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce
and Jessica Chastain, Lawless is the story of the Bondurant
family, who control the production and distribution of moonshine during
prohibition. Operating out of Franklin County, Virginia, a dusty little
burg where even the police partake in a little bit of recreational
inebriation, the Bondurant’s run a legitimate bar as a facade for their
more illegal business enterprise.
But with a successful franchise often comes unwanted attention, and the
Bondurant’s are soon confronted by Special Deputy Rakes, a sinister
creature operating on behalf of the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney who
wants to take a cut of their moonshine profits. The Bondurant’s refuse,
of course, and set in motion a series of events that inevitably lead to
is buoyed by strong performances, particularly Pearce’s almost Dick
Dastardly-esque villain (The incremental pressure he applies to the boys
invokes a tangible tension throughout), a tightly written script and
visceral flashes of violence. Hillcoat’s mastery of the camera is
clearly evident here; each scene is guided with a deft hand and wrings
some superb performances from the cast. However, Gary Oldman is
criminally underused and his character, Floyd Banner, seems perfunctory
but for the most part the characters are well rounded and believable.
Punctuated with a laconic sense of humour, the mundane quality of
day-to-day life in a small town is perfectly juxtaposed with the intense
violence that comes with choosing to operate on the wrong side of the
law. However it is the truly vicious Rakes who offers some of the film’s
most cringe inducing scenes. The film shies away from stylising the
violence, making it even more effective when it occurs.
The requisite subplot of blossoming love interest never comes off as
corny or ham-fisted, creating a believable bond both between Tom Hardy
and Jessica Chastain’s characters and Shia LaBeouf and Mia Wasikowska’s
daughter of a fundamentalist preacher. Cave’s screenplay moves at a
brisk pace and the attention to detail in the production is astounding –
Lawless truly inhabits the era it’s portraying.
If any criticism could be aimed at the film it could be that Pearce’s
villain may be a tad too cartoonish; I personally enjoyed his portrayal,
but I can see how for some viewers it may dispel the realism slightly.
Visually Lawless looks great, albeit almost too clean. The
image is crisp and clear and fine detail is clearly visible. The colour
palette, made up mostly of dusty browns punctuated by the vibrant green
of the countryside, is evenly balanced and the blacks are suitably inky.
Some shots suffer slightly from banding but for the most part this is an
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack that’s competent enough but
falls slightly short in some areas, particularly the muted pop of
gunfire. For the most part the soundtrack is robust and clearly handled
and there’s nice differentiation of channels. The sound engineering is
up to the usual high standard displayed by Roadshow and for the most
part this is an extremely proficient transfer.
has a nice little handful of special features, with the informative
audio commentary with Hillcoat and Author Matt Bondurant being the main
draw. The featurettes are all engaging and offer great insight into the
history behind not only the production but prohibition and the Bondurant
family themselves. The package is rounded out by a short little
collection of deleted scenes and a music video by Willie Nelson.
List of features:
Audio Commentary with Director John Hillcoat and Author Matt Bondurant
Franklin County, Virginia: Then & Now
The True Story of the Wettest County in the World
The Story of the Bondurant Family
“Midnight Run” Music Video
Although not quite reaching the heights of Hillcoat’s previous two
efforts, Lawless is an entertaining and accurate portrayal of
bootlegging during prohibition. Commanding performances by the core cast
are enhanced by Hillcoat’s even-handed direction and the finished
product is one of the better films released in 2012, making it a fine
addition to any collection.