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.
Based on a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde "Pay It Forward" is about a boy named Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) who is inspired by his social studies teacher Mr. Simonet (Kevin Spacey) and comes up with a school project based on a simple concept: Don't wait to pay back good deeds; pay them forward three times over. One of the boy's attempts to do good includes bringing his teacher together with his alcoholic single mother Arlene (Helen Hunt).
This movie has all the makings of Oscar. Two-time Oscar winner Spacey is solid as usual and escapes into the role of Mr. Simonet whose facial and bodily burn scars hide a tragic secret. Oscar winner Hunt gets a chance to really flex her acting muscles and she does. Her scenes with young Osment are especially gripping. But the revelation in "Pay It Forward" is Osment. This boy was born to act and he improves upon his already impressive turn in "The Sixth Sense." It would be nice to see Osment win Oscar this year and Spacey and Hunt will surely receive nominations. Providing strong supporting work are Angie Dickinson Jay Mohr and James Caviezel and Jon Bon Jovi appears in a fortunately brief cameo.
Mimi Leder ("Deep Impact " "The Peacemaker") takes a break from action films and slows it down way down with "Pay It Forward." Her foray into the non-action realm is shaky. Some of the scenes are out of place and take away from the overall effectiveness of the film. One major and surprising plot point is heartbreaking unnecessary and executed in a contrived manner. And the ending is disjointed from the feel of the rest of the film. Fortunately for Leder she has an amazing cast and a strong story from author Hyde.
We've all known nobodies like Joe Scheffer (Tim Allen)--a milquetoast fellow who works at his job while hardly anyone notices him. Even though he's a talented video specialist for a big company he is regularly passed over for a long-promised promotion. Only one of his co-workers "wellness coordinator" Meg Harper (Julie Bowen) pays attention to him--mostly because it's her job but she also genuinely likes him (he secretly likes her too). One day the straw breaks when he loses his hard earned parking spot to the office bully Mark McKinney (Patrick Warburton) and is then humiliated by Mark in front of his precocious 12-year-old daughter Natalie (Hayden Panettiere). Joe decides he is not going to roll over and play dead; he's going to challenge Mark. Suddenly his popularity grows at the office. He starts climbing the corporate ladder. He gets a makeover and takes martial arts instruction from a washed-up "B" action star (Jim Belushi). Life is good--that is until Joe notices how unimpressed Meg and Natalie have become; they want the old Joe back (and darn it so do we). As the big day approaches Joe must decide if he will play into the popular vote or show everyone that he is truly a "somebody" now.
You've got to admit that Tim Allen is a funny guy. He can be thrown into any comedy (and he's smart enough to keep making them instead of trying to do a "drama") and you know he's going to pull out a pretty good performance. Some of his efforts like the hysterical Galaxy Quest have been better than others. Unfortunately Joe falls into the "other" category but don't blame Allen too much since he still manages to make Joe an endearing character. Bowen is plucky and spirited without much substance while Panettiere is a standout as Joe's daughter Natalie. With a face like an angel she projects more real emotion than anyone else and if she plays her cards right she might turn into a good little actress. Best of all it was great to see Belushi again. Definitely a high point of the film he is hysterical as the has-been action star trying to teach Joe how to fight.
Joe provides just enough laughs to keep you in your seat but it isn't really going to surprise you. The formula is simple-wimpy guy stands up for himself learns invaluable lesson about being true to oneself and gets the girl. This isn't rocket science folks and the script lapses into pat answers a little too easily. Still it's one of those comedies that grows on you whether you want it to or not. The funniest moments in the film are between Allen and Belushi hands down with the comic veterans playing off one other expertly. It's also clear director John Pasquin and Allen have a long history together. They began their relationship on Allen's hit TV show Home Improvement and then went on to make a few successful films for Disney including The Santa Clause and Jungle2Jungle. Pasquin can bring out good stuff from Allen but somehow misses the great things Allen can do.