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.
UPDATE: In an unfortunate turn of events, HBO has announced that it will not be pursuing a TV movie based on the life and work of Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes. Deadline shares a statement from HBO Films President Len Amato, admitting, "It had become clear to us before even receiving a script that due to our company’s CNN affiliation the film could never be seen as objective."
This means no network-driven crime syndicates, no bloodsucking news anchors, no awkward social encounters with Chris Wallace. C'est la vie...
EARLIER: There was a time when HBO was all about the Mafia, in-penitentiary crime, and horse murder. But the network has taken a much darker turn lately: now, it's all about politics. Think about all of HBO's recent projects: the Sarah Palin film Game Change, the vice presidential satire Veep, the inside look at the world of punditry that is The Newsroom. Even Game of Thrones couldn't pass up an opportunity to stick George W. Bush's head on a skewer. And now, Deadline reports that the network is opting for a new addition to this trend: a TV movie about Roger Ailes, the present Fox News chairman and former presidential media consultant.
The untitled project comes from writer Gabriel Sherman, who himself has written articles on the controversial Ailes for New York Magazine (you can read his famous piece "The Elephant in the Green Room" here to get a taste of what kind of perspective the HBO movie will take). Of course, HBO isn't all about spouting some agenda. The network is one of the most accomplished venues for storytelling in the spectrum of contemporary television. Plus, it's not as though the issues Sherman raises in his articles aren't thematically rich for good TV. But considering how dull some consider The Newsroom to be, the network might look into spicing things up, perhaps taking a lesson from one of its own, more successful programs...
In this vision of Sherman's articles, Ailes must maintain order in the seaside Fox News headquarters, bribing fact-checkers and murdering CNN reps to keep things going his way.
Perhaps the network can use vampires to represent the plight of the Fox News journalist, with werewolves as NBC anchors, and whatever Sookie Stackhouse is as Jon Stewart.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The greatest incarnation of them all: poor, misunderstood Roger Ailes ambles about his mega-corporation, getting into awkward encounters that result in worldwide news debacles. Occasionally guest starring Ted Danson.
Only time will tell what sort of movie HBO will make of Roger Ailes' story. And with all these inspiring programs at bay, there are countless possibilities of what the project will eventually turn into. It could be like any one of them. Boardwalk, True Blood, Curb... but not probably Girls. Some experiments are best left untread.
[Image Credit: HBO]
HBO Renews 'True Blood' and 'Newsroom'
A Flawed 'Newsroom' Rewrites History