A bootlegger drama with all the kick of a shandy gaff


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Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce
Time Out rating:
Japanese title: Yokubo no Virginia

Virginia, 1931: a time of good men, bad cops, pretty girls and a world turned as rotten as bad moonshine by poverty and prohibition. Cinema has been here many times before, of course, and director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave – who worked together on 2005’s The Proposition – don’t much surprise with their bone-cracking tale of the bootlegging Bondurant brothers: Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke). In a rural backwater, the boys run up against mean cop Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce), an Al Capone-type from the Big Smoke (Gary Oldman) and two beautiful women (Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain).

Hillcoat and Cave’s decision to be liberal with the bloodletting and throat-cutting – knuckledusters in faces, testicles in jars – doesn’t stop their film from feeling a bit too pretty (likewise, Wasikowska and Chastain are perhaps too glossily beautiful as Jack and Forrest’s love interests). And this is not a nuanced tale. Where it has more to offer is in Benoît Delhomme’s photography – there are great pastoral shots – and a relaxed direction by Hillcoat that gives time to endearing performances and a strong sense of place. LaBeouf’s Jack is youthful and outgoing while Hardy offers the anti-charisma of a guy who’s been around the block and had his ribs broken a hundred times.

But there’s little in Lawless – a more mainstream film than The Proposition – to upset a romantic vision of the Bondurants. That’s surely because Cave’s script is based on a 2008 novel, The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, grandson of one of the brothers. Hillcoat and Cave tell this tale from a perspective of blind fondness – like relatives eulogising their ancestors around the fireplace. It makes for an oddly comfy film considering the death and hurt at its core.

Lawless opens at select Tokyo cinemas on June 29

By Dave Calhoun
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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