“Lawless” is the perfect Prohibition-era film, with everything it takes to make a phenomenal period piece. Set in the backwoods of Virginia, the set pieces are of the time, immersing the audience without ever drawing them out. The gangster get-ups are subtle yet practical, the vehicles spring to life in a way unmatched by any period piece I can remember, and even the distilleries are awe-inspiring, bringing an unfathomable realism to the setting.

Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke are excellent in their roles as two of the three brothers, but Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain exemplify what it is to bring unforgettable presence to a part. I anticipated every scene involving Tom Hardy, whose retorts and facial expressions, though subtle, demonstrate borderline heroism. His interaction with fellow characters is unyielding, even with his brothers in times of much-needed support, which Hardy responds with tough, brotherly love. Shia proves he belongs in more films like “Lawless”; this performance is advantageous in picturing him in Lars Von Trier’s upcoming film. Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska also deliver memorable performances in underutilized roles, while Guy Pearce’s zany villain almost reaches a point of caricature but inserts a much-needed focal point. If no recognition comes to Hardy for this performance, another injustice will be attached to a Hillcoat film.

The film’s violence gets rough at times yet pays itself off by jumping back on course with the driving plot. “Lawless” is based on the novel “The Wettest County In The World,” written by an actual Bondurant and adapted by John Hillcoat and his long-time partner-in-crime, Nick Cave (“The Proposition”), who also supplies the suitable score. Together, they deliver yet another outstanding film, proving that “The Proposition” and “The Road” were no flukes. John Hillcoat may have a short resume, but he’s proving to be a top contender for one of my favorite directors.

“Lawless” hits the same marks we’re used to from a Prohibition film. But with a flair and depth that puts it above and beyond anything in its genre. It’s unafraid to be dark and even reaches the point of gruesome. Though not the main character, Tom Hardy steals the spotlight, and this should prove effective come awards season (although I was sure “The Road” would be recognized at the Oscars, and it missed out). On par with being my favorite film of the year, my anticipation for the film matched what I received in the same way “Drive” fulfilled my expectations last year.

I look forward to Hillcoat and Cave’s next venture together and am now looking to engross myself in the actual novel.

August 29, 2012

John Hillcoat

Nick Cave

“The Wettest County in the World”
by Matt Bondurant

The Weinstein Company
Annapurna Pictures
FilmNation Entertainment

(for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

116 minutes

Benoît Delhomme

Nick Cave
Warren Ellis

Dylan Tichenor

Shia LaBeouf
Tom Hardy
Gary Oldman
Mia Wasikowska
Jessica Chastain
Jason Clarke
Guy Pearce
Dane DeHaan
Bill Camp

Lucy Fisher
Douglas Wick
Megan Ellison
Michael Benaroya

$26 million

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