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.
The latest cinematic tribute to the late Hunter S. Thompson is The Rum Diary, based on the author's longtime-unpublished novel about a fictional young journalist's hedonistic and dangerous trip to Puerto Rico. The film stars Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp (whose journey is inspired by Thompson's own Puerto Riccan adventures) as well as Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi and Richard Jenkins.
Singing the praises of Hunter S. Thompson is fairly pointless deed. Everyone who knows him has likely already decided how they feel about him. There are the tirless devotees who appreciate the man's onconscionable genius and hold dear the watermark he has forever left on the world of not simply journalism but writing entirely. And then there are the others... whom we'll just gloss over. Regardless of which side you're on, you're likely glued to it. But if you're in the first category, you still hold an unvarying spot in your Top Ten for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The movie was a godsend -- perhaps the truest and most worthwhile film adaptation of a piece of literature created in our time. Depp portrayed Thompson's alias Raoul Duke with such artistic dedication and originality, narrating his thoughts in a thrilling timber, to cement Terry Gilliam's vibrant love affair with madness.
The Rum Diary, adapted from an even earlier work by Thompson, will reunite Depp with his role playing a thinly veiled embodiment of the author and with the memorable style of narration. It's hard to say if this movie will capture the magic of its cinematic predecessor. Of course, the two stories are not related and are not meant to be compared, but when such important elements are revisited, you can't help but hold one up to the other.
Some of us might be apprehensive. Can today's Depp and director Bruce Robinson (Withnail & I) bring Thompson's words to life in The Rum Diary? We don't know. But let's just say, the film is in capable hands. And the poster seems to be in the spirit Thompson would appreciate. So sure, we're a little nervous. But we're also very excited.