I always had a suspicion Nick Cave was a grim guy. And after watching Lawless, which he wrote based on a historical novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, I have the official proof that he is, indeed, pretty grim.
Lawless is surely one dark film. It’s supposed to be about Prohibition but it’s really an excuse to piece together one violent scene after another (and pretend like it’s serious cinema). The plot is very simple: The Bondurant brothers produce moonshine for anyone who wants it. Legend says they are different from everybody else out there, invincible. The three brothers are Forrest (Hardy), who’s the boss, Howard (Jason Clarke), the enforcer, and Jack (LaBeouf), the weird one. They do things their way, and are pretty happy with their trade.
While Jack admirers big buck gangsters such as Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), when the New Criminal Order arrives to their patch of Virginia, he has to learn the hard way how bloody it can get. The three bootlegger brothers and their gang are white poodles in pink tutus against Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), ex-cop from Chicago who instantly takes control of the whole area on his arrival. He is brutal and ruthless, yet Forrest refuses to bow down.
The conflict in Lawless, therefore, is between different shades of ‘bad’ and ‘illegal’, resulting in a lot of bloody ugliness that males who like such pictures will surely enjoy. The women are present in Lawless as embellishments and symbols of gentle weakness, with Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), to be gazed at lovingly by Jack, and Maggie (Jessica Chastain), to be eyed up greasily by numerous scum. The only touching acting job here is by Dane DeHaan who plays Cricket, a crippled guy who may not have the physical strength for battle but will use anything he’s got to fight back.
“The True Story of the Wettest County in the World” is dedicated to discussions of the film by the actors and crew. The featurette “Franklin County, VA: Then and Now” is interesting to those curious about the period, but isn’t very entertaining. “The Story of the Bondurant Family” (which is part of the Blu-ray edition, not the DVD) shows how much research of the Wettest County Matt Bondurant has done, and features a slideshow of his grandfather’s photos.
There is the Director’s commentary, and here John Hillcoat invites Matt Bondurant to join in, to great effect. There are the deleted scenes which will be interesting only for the fans of the movie, as well as a Willie Nelson music video, that incorporates parts of the movie. The Blu-ray pack consists of a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a digital copy of the film – in case someone wants to watch Lawless over and over again, on a different device each time.
Verdict: For fans of historical movies, and lovers of bloody guy films such as Looper, this is the one to watch. Some good acting compensates for the fact that Lawless wants to seem more than it actually is – a gloomy picture about criminals; but it’s still not enough to be considered great.