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Will You Take a Moonshine to “Lawless”?

August 30, 2012

Nearly a year ago to the day, Miramax released The Debt—an underrated, long-delayed drama costarring Jessica Chastain that had once been considered Oscar bait before getting dumped into theaters over the traditionally sleepy Labor Day weekend. Now, history has repeated itself as The Weinstein Co. has buried Lawless, another shoulda-beena-contender featuring Chastain as a flame-haired femme fatale. But don’t let the low-profile marketing campaign dissuade you: Lawless packs the darkly intoxicating kick of the best backwoods moonshine.

That’s the product manufactured by the Bondurant clan, a real-life trio of Virginia brothers who fought the (corrupt) law in the Prohibition Era. They’re embodied by Shia LeBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke, who don’t bear much family resemblance but bring their own particular strengths to each role. The film itself is a pleasing melange of my three favorite current cable dramas—Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad and Justified. If you like those shows as much as I do, chances are you’ll love Lawless.

Written by bad-seed rocker Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, who previously collaborated on the bloody good 2005 Western The Proposition, Lawless also features that film’s star, Guy Pearce, in a scene-stealingly bizarre turn as a fussy, sociopathic law-enforcement officer sporting no eyebrows and the scariest onscreen haircut this side of Javier Bardem in No Country for Old MenGary Oldman also contributes a stellar supporting turn as a sadistic gangster, but the film belongs to Hardy, who also costarred with Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Dark Knight Rises. Stripped of the sleep-apnea mask he wore as Batman’s nemesis Bane, Hardy glowers and grumbles in one of the most compellingly odd performances since Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, or maybe Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade.

As the seemingly indestructible Forrest Bondurant, Hardy stirs up a potent sexual chemistry with Chastain as an ex-stripper who flees Chicago for a job at the family filling station/saloon. Her steamy nude scene inspired my Two Cranky Guys colleague Bret Watson, who accompanied me to the film, to dub it Braless. A romantic subplot with LeBoeuf and Mia Wasikowska, as a puritanical preacher’s rebellious daughter, is less intriguing, unless you’ve got a foot-washing fetish or a thing for the gawky, goony-eyed Alice in Wonderland ingenue. Me, I’m more of a Jessica Chest—er, Chastain man.

Gorgeously shot by French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme and evocatively scored by Cave and Warren Ellis (with a little help from Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and Willie Nelson), Lawless is one of 2012’s best films. Like my favorite movie of last year, Drive, it mesmerizingly juxtaposes bursts of shocking violence with images of breathtaking beauty. Why it’s getting such shabby treatment from the Weinsteins is beyond me. All I can say is, there oughta be a law.

Will you be drinking in Lawless this weekend, or have you already? Post a comment!

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