It’s rare when you have a film that includes stellar actors Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain and it’s even more rare when they all star in a film that has such an intense story and is brilliantly directed. Director John Hillcoat (“The Road”) delivers the most violent and biting film of 2012 and Hardy delivers the best performance of his career.
“Lawless” is based off 2008’s book, “The Wettest County in the World,” written by Matt Bondurant, Jack Bondurant’s grandson. The Bondurant Brothers: Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) ran a moonshine business in the 1930s in Franklin County, Virginia during the Prohibition-era. Inspired by true-life tales of Matt Bondurant’s family, this film showcases the infamous Bondurant Brothers at their most lethal and most vulnerable.
Forrest runs the day to day operations and he and Howard sell barrels of moonshine to cops, gangsters and common folk all the way from the Appalachians into the city. When Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) steps into town, he gives the boys a run for their illegal business, starting with poor little Jack, brutally beating him up in one of the most violent scenes of the film.
LaBeouf, who plays the youngest brother and acts as a narrator of the film has his best role since 2007’s “Disturbia.” Although I think his character arc happens a bit fast here, he does come full circle in the climactic scene of the movie.
Hardy, who of course plays the villain, Bane, in this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” plays the stone-cold Forrest and leads the film from start to finish. I’d argue that his character in “Lawless” is much more mighty and vicious than Bane, based on his grunts alone in this movie.
Pearce plays the maniacal Deputy Charley Rakes and with bleached-out eyebrows, stringy black hair and sounds like Christoph Waltz’s character from “Inglourious Basterds,” who wouldn’t be petrified of such a character. Pearce does a phoenomenal job, in his best role since 2000’s “Memento.” Every time he came on-screen I was scared stiff of what he would do to the people around him, seriously.
Chastain really has become an actress among actresses in Tinseltown, wisely picking her roles. (If you haven’t seen “Take Shelter,” or “The Help,” do so immediately). Chastain gives Maggie, Forrest’s love interest, a little bit of an edge versus just a damsel-in-distress and I loved watching the chemistry between her and Hardy grow throughout the movie.
Oldman, plays the ultimate gangster in town, Floyd Banner, and although he has very little time on-screen, he conducts such a strong on-screen presence, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. The actor has the most range out of an actor in Hollywood today.
“Lawless” may not be the best movie of the year, but it produces some of the year’s best performances, especially that of Hardy and Pearce. It’s a little hillbilly mixed with a little gangster-squad and with The Weinstein Company’s proper backing, “Lawless” may rack up a few Oscar nominations in 2013.