Short Takes: Lawless
By Nicolas Rapold
Lawless-ness and brutality rule the frontier worlds of Australian director John Hillcoat’s The Proposition (05) and The Road (09). This time out, Hillcoat makes a foray into Virginia’s Prohibition-era moonshine country, locating a kindred sensibility in Matt Bondurant’s bloody 2008 historical novel The Wettest County in the World. But the adaptation (by Hillcoat compadre Nick Cave) is a hokey piece of pop history that wearyingly insists upon its own mythos like a comic-book blockbuster.
Tom Hardy glowers as the invincible Forrest, one of three Bondurant brothers, who purvey their potent brew with the local sheriff’s complicity. But their backwoods empire is threatened by cityfolk in the unconvincing person of Guy Pearce as flamboyant Chicago lawman Rakes. Shia LeBeouf, one of Hollywood’s more inexplicable stars and a reliable bovine burden on any film he’s attached to, plays the coming-into-his-own Bondurant sibling, Jack, with a pleading toughness. Love interests include Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain in functional roles as pivotal women. Dane DeHaan is the sleeper stand-out as a crippled friend of the brothers; Gary Oldman turns up to play, adorably, at American gangster.
In case you forget about Forrest’s physical invulnerability, everyone and his brother and his voiceover is there to remind you; and Forrest's little porcine grunts even become a lame running joke for capping scenes. This broken-backed movie falls apart long before the brothers’ empire seems in danger of doing so, and upon emerging for air, you’ll want a stiff drink.