There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
For waitress Jenna (Keri Russell) life is pie—but that’s strictly in culinary terms not metaphorical. In fact life is anything but easy or exciting for her: She spends every day working for a boss (Lew Temple) she hates before going home to a husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) she hates even more. The lone highlight of Jenna’s day—besides seeing her only two friends Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) at work—comes when assembling naming and baking her town-renowned daily pie; today it’s the self-explanatory “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” pie. To her having a baby would put on hold her dreams of winning an upcoming $25 000 pie contest which would enable her to leave Earl. Alas she finds out she is pregnant with Earl’s baby but something good comes out her trip to the OB/GYN—her new young doc from Connecticut Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). He’s different and his attitude is alien to this Southern town but he makes Jenna feel like she matters and it’s not long before she reciprocates. As her due date nears and their secretive affair progresses her confusion only grows but she finds clarity from the most unexpected source. Russell is a long way from Felicity the TV show that launched her career but sometimes escaping the pigeonhole of a character as popular as Felicity Porter takes more than mere time. It often takes a left-of-center role like this one and if Russell’s sole intention was to leave her past in the dust she succeeds—and then some. As Jenna she arouses everything from sadness to joy to tears of both leaving out the forced drama that made her a teen favorite years ago. And yet she maintains an undeniable air of well cuteness that enables her to play younger than she is in reality. Equally refreshing perpetual up-and-comer Fillion (Serenity) does a great job of making his relationship with Russell seem an unlikely one. He also displays great comedic skills which we last saw in ‘05’s Slither. Frankly there’s no good reason he’s not a leading man. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Hines about the last actress you’d pick to play a Southern waitress gives her best movie performance to date even if only by proving doubters like myself wrong. Indie vets Shelly (Factotum) and Sisto (Six Feet Under) are also impressive in their comedic and somewhat villainous roles respectively. And Andy Griffith even stops by for some memorable lines! Beneath this syrupy sweet tale of pleasantness lies a pitch-black back story: Waitress writer/director/costar Adrienne Shelly was murdered in New York City towards the end of completing her movie. The shame of that in movie terms lies not only in the fact that she will obviously never see what is her best and most accessible directing effort but also that she clearly possessed massive talent and we’ll never know where she might’ve taken it. With Waitress Shelly created a warm fuzzy and vaguely nostalgic Southern dramedy with much less emphasis on the drama. And while her characters might not be completely honest representations of the South Shelly at least steers clear of offensive stereotypes that seem to saturate today’s movies opting to make Jenna’s plight the true conflict instead of choosing the proverbial “Southern climate.” Elsewhere Shelly does virtually no wrong. Waitress is exclusively about the female point of view which is quite refreshing. Shelly’s long takes of quirky dialogue between female characters—think G-rated Tarantino—are nothing short of hilarious and although the proceedings tend to take a conventional turn you’re always caught by surprise. As the tearjerker female-empowerment ending unfolds you can’t help but wipe the smile from your face and wish Shelly were still around; film could sure use a positive shot in the arm like her right about now.