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.
Then there are the 27 really bad bridesmaid dresses Heigl’s character Jane keeps in her closet. Quite spectacular really--ranging from a Goth rocker dress dog collar and all to a rodeo Western dress complete with cowboy hat. You see the completely selfless Jane is pretty much the world’s best bridesmaid. She’s happy to put on the most heinous outfit because she knows this is her girlfriend’s day and anything she wants goes. Thing is Jane forgets about taking care of herself forever putting aside her own hopes and dreams. Then she meets Kevin (James Marsden) a newspaper reporter on the bridal beat who witnesses Jane’s bridesmaid expertise one evening and decides a story about this wedding junkie is his ticket to journalism fame. Jane initially brushes him off--until her younger sister Tess (Malin Akerman) comes to town and steals the heart of her boss (Edward Burns) a man Jane has been pining for for years. With Kevin’s influence Jane finally realizes it’s time to stop eating someone else’s wedding cake and take a stand. Heigl is on a roll these days. She got Knocked Up in one of last year’s funniest comedies and then won the Emmy for her role on Grey’s Anatomy. It makes sense she’d follow things up with 27 Dresses since she’s now considered the new go-to girl for romantic comedies. Of course Heigl as the “plain Jane” sister next to Akerman’s glitzy blondie is a tad unrealistic but Heigl totally sells it. The actress should be cautious about doing too many rom-coms however because she could pigeonhole herself and never be able to shake it (Meg Ryan anyone?). Marsden and Burns are adequate as the love interests with Marsden coming out of it smelling the sweetest. Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid) does what she can with the thankless role of bridezilla. But the real gem is Judy Greer as Jane’s coworker and resident wisecracker. The supporting actress has done the “best friend” character in countless romantic comedies--and in wedding ones to boot such as The Wedding Planner--but we never tire of her snarky enthusiasm. Director Anne Fletcher’s film career has been mostly as a choreographer specializing in comedies such as Along Came Polly The Wedding Planner and The 40-Year-Old Virgin (did they dance in that?). She got her directing break when they handed her the reigns to modest dance hit Step Up but it’s obvious being involved in all those romantic comedies rubbed off on Fletcher as she handles 27 Dresses with ease. Directing fluff movies of this kind has got be fairly easy technically speaking but Fletcher isn’t quite experienced enough to bring out the best in her actors which is what makes or breaks a good romantic comedy. That and the script of course--which unfortunately for 27 Dresses is a rather pedestrian effort from The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna. The film’s highlight is definitely when Jane models all 27 bridesmaid dresses but other than that it’s all pretty formulaic.