Have you ever head the expression "a perfect storm?". It's used to design a confluence of circumstances, resulting in an event of an unusual magnitude. There were precursor signs that LAWLESS would rock. It's a novel adaptation (those are usually great), the screenplay has been penned by none other than Nick Cave, atmosphere-heavy director John Hillcoat is behind the camera and the use of actors like Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce and Mia Wasikowska who have the skills to match their star power, pretty much guaranteed a succes. I won't surprise you by saying LAWLESS lives up to its promises. It may not have the greatest dramatic pull, but it's an immersive and detailed historical fiction, with a script that breathes authenticity. It features some of the finest acting I've seen on screen this year. When everybody works together and pushes in the same direction, you create something great. Simple enough, no?
You may be familiar with the Bondurant family stories, you may not. THE WETTEST COUNTY IN THE WORLD is a historical novel written by Matt Bondurant and is inspired by the author's own grandfather and grand-uncles. Jack, Forrest and Howard Bondurant make a living as moonshiners during the Great Depression. Forrest Bondurant (Hardy) is the patriarch, chief of operations and somewhat of a living legend. Rumor has it that he's impossible to kill. When a new D.A comes in town, wanting a cut of the Bondurant operations, he is thoroughly told to go fuck himself by Forrest. He unleashes then his mad dog Charlie Rakes (Pearce) to hunt and take down every moonshine operation in the county. The Bondurant brothers are stand-up guys, though. They won't let anybody walk over then, whether it's the law or crazy city-folk with a chip on their shoulder.
I might've said it before, but sweet-baby-Jesus-eating-fudgesicles, that Tom Hardy guy. Is he ever great? If you already thought he was, prepare to be blown away by his Forrest Bondurant. He does such a subtle, detailed and layered interpretation, he commands attention whenever he's on screen. Forget the guy who played Bane, two months ago, Hardy changed physically so much for the part, you won't even think about comparing. He's my favorite working actor, along with Javier Bardem. He's so good, it's a problem whenever he's on screen with Shia LaBeouf, because Shia plays good ol' Shia, with an era haircut and a southern accent. Between the Hollywoodian branded schtick and such a thorough job, it sometimes look like they're not playing in the same movie. Guy Pearce also underwent a tremendous physical transformation. He's never been that ugly on screen. He plays the bad guy with surprising ease. Almost with glee.
I cannot pass under silence the tremendous work of Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska either. They really click with director John Hillcoat. They understand each other on screen so well. Hillcoat does something very remarkable I find, that is highlighting the beauty of his actresses. I never really seen anything in Chastain and Wasikowska before seeing them in LAWLESS. A bit like Nicolas Winding Refn did in DRIVE with Carey Mulligan, Hillcoat showed Chastain and Wasikowska in such a way, everybody could understand why Forrest and Jack fell for them. It's attention to detail like that, which makes LAWLESS so good. The music is terrific. Sometimes the absence of music makes the difference. The long shots work in everybody's favor. I also loved how Hillcoat took at heart the character of Forrest and the legends around him.
If you're looking for explosions and excitement, LAWLESS might not be what you're looking for, but what it is, is a tremendous historical movie and all-around great cinema, built on a rock-solid, tender and witty script by Nick Cave. It was a gimmie the man knew how to write, but this the screenplay of LAWLESS is a statement. It's that good. Also, it feels so good to see such a labor of love on screen. So many movies are just product, gift wrapped for the silver screen. Things put together fast, to maximize profits for studios. LAWLESS is a work of art and a breath of fresh air. It's a movie that will please cinema lovers and crime fiction buffs all at once. I don't think it will make that much noise at the box office, but it has a very peculiar type of charm. It will echo with moviegoers for many years.