Aug. 22, 2012 - Issue #879: Is The Party Over?
The Bondurant brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LeBeouf), are hillbilly bootleggers whose business is encroached upon by outsiders, led by Chicago-based special agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), looking to get in on the profits. The story is told from Jack's point-of-view, which is unfortunate given LeBeouf's overworked earnestness, but Jack is indeed the one undergoing the most radical shifts in character: we see the boys as kids in an overfamiliar prologue in which wimpy little Jack can't work up the gumption to kill a hog, something his stoic elder brothers do without hesitation. Forrest is the most enigmatic character; at a young age he claimed he and his brothers were immortal, and Forrest Bondurant's uncanny real-life biography, peppered with a series of injuries that most of us would never survive, feels like the best reason to tell this story in the first place. I wish it was more about Forrest and his strange life, and that Hardy was more central to the film since he also gives what is by far the most compelling performance.
Lawless' most flamboyant performance however would easily be Pearce's. His Rakes is an improbable dandy: eyebrows plucked, hair slicked and dyed to an ebony sheen, wearing delicate gloves and pearly waistcoats. He looks like Satan's golf tee. Sneering and preening and gleefully sadistic, Pearce's choice to hurl himself right over the top is a perfectly reasonable response to this character's absurdly overstated villainy; the character also reads as a closeted homosexual monster, a fairly lazy, offensive, outdated paradigm.
While I'm a huge admirer of Cave's work in most other circumstances, I recognize that the script for Lawless is the sum of Cave's weakest tendencies. Nonetheless I could still imagine a more appealing realization of that script helmed by a director with more of humour, sense of place and affection for character, however archetypical, than Hillcoat displays here with his ceremoniousness, overstated brutality and overly cutty violence. It's been nearly 10 years since David Gordon Green made anything even close to worthy of the promise of his debut, George Washington; I wish someone like Green, the kind of filmmaker we used to label "regional," could get this kind of a gig. Even with all its clichés, it would still have felt more shook alive and lived-in and curious about the world and the mysteries of the past.
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