“It’s not violence that sets men apart, it’s the distance they’re willing to go.”
Forrest Bondurant, Lawless
Lawless, which opens nationwide this week, is a phenomenal action film that is as equally disturbingly violent as it is surprisingly funny. The gangster-style action is non-stop, the characters familiarly real and the Prohibition-era setting of Franklin County, Virginia is ripe for exploring. Put simply, the film is unruly fun.
Inspired by true events, Lawless follows the infamous bootlegging Bondurant brothers as they defy convention and authority in back-country Virginia where law and order are ruled by fear and violence. The film is based on the novel “The Wettest County in the World,” which was written by Bondurant descendant Matt Bondurant.
What carries the movie, what gives it the needed weight is two-fold: the constant threat of always unpredictable violence and superb acting performances.
First, the violence. Given the nature of the film, violence was likely to play a major role. What is unexpected are the depths to which the Bondurant brothers, Tom Hardy‘s Forrest in particular, and Guy Pierce’s Charlie Rakes will go against one another. As you can see in the opening quote, the key to the film’s violence is fear. The farther a man is willing to go, the more likely he is to inspire fear in others, thus perhaps negating the need for future violent acts. That said, ruthless tarring, castration, brass-knuckling, rape, and more certainly take the level of unpredictably to a new level that keeps you not on the edge of your seat but cowering in the back of it. Watching enemies out-scare each other while grotesquely out-doing the other shouldn’t be thrilling, yet it is oddly satisfying and leaves you wanting it to go farther.
As for the acting, it is impressive. The credentials of the actors cast in Lawless speak for themselves but it would be neglectful not to highlight a few standouts. The first is Hardy who needs nary a word to convey the deep emotion of a tortured bootlegger. His grunts carry the weight of a Clint Eastwood snarl. He is acting at its finest. On the other end of the spectrum is Jessica Chastain who always manages to carry a powerful air of vulnerability that is fast becoming her calling card (see Tree of Life, The Help or Take Shelter) that few actresses, outside of perhaps Grace Kelly, can rival.
And yet, the true standout is the unexpected performance of the relatively unknown Dane DeHaan. In a role reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio‘s young, not-fully-there Arnie Grape in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, DeHaan outshone his fellow actors while playing a minor role. It would be shocking if he is not nominated for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Oscars. His inspired performance is pivotal since he is the emotional center of a film that begged for it. While the world around him is violent and aggressive, DeHaan’s Cricket is gentle, kind, and eager, always eager, to assist his friends. The events that unfold around him are truly pivotal in much the same way as those events surrounding Noel Fisher‘s Cotton Top in Hatfields & McCoys. Without DeHaan, the film goes bust.
I’m not Siskel or Ebert but I do have two thumbs and I’m pointing them both waaay up. Go see this film!