Lawless: the beginning of awards season?

As we finally move away from the tent-pole shading antics of the summer, John Hillcoat’s new film Lawless looks set to start us on the road to award season. With a pulse racing advertising campaign and an all star cast including Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman – still riding the wave of The Dark Knight Rises – Lawless (on paper at least) looks set to be a commercial success.

Set during the great Depression, Shia LeBeouf leads an impressive cast as one of the three Bondurant brothers; a trio of Virginians who rise up the echelons of the moonshine liqueur trade of Franklin County. The remaining brothers are depicted by Jason Clarke and man of the moment, Tom Hardy who makes a great case for the cardigan: Hardigan?

So why should you be excited about a trio of brothers selling dodgy booze? Well, for starters the cast which begins with LeBeouf and Hardy is followed by Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, and Guy Pierce, making a great case for best ensemble of the year. For those showing reservation in regards to Mr. Lebeouf’s presence may find themselves shocked at the gritty talent on display this time round; looking to leave the days of Transformers far behind, the young actor has vowed to devote the rest of his career to independent and artistically rich endeavours. In Lawless he looks set to reinvent himself to the masses; his involvement in Lars Von Trier’s upcoming Nymphomaniac is another example of this new serious trajectory.

Gary Oldman plays a rival ‘businessman’ who’s toes get stepped on by the Bondurant brothers as they try to make headway in the economic slum in which they find themselves. For those familiar with Oldman’s career, particularly his earlier days, you know the man thrives on menace. Just look back to Drexl the pimp in True Romance, Detective Stansfield in Leon, and his turn as skinhead Coxy in Mike Leigh’s Meantime. Though subtly brilliant in understated recent roles like George Smiley and Commissioner Gordon, he’s made his career with unpleasant characters and Lawless looks to be another mark on an already distinguished body of work.

Guy Pierce returns for the third time to director John Hillcoat after his fine performance in the ultra-violent pseudo western The Proposition and cameo in the extraordinarily bleak The Road. Pierce is a remarkable talent who impresses no matter how strong the material and it’s great to see him finally getting the recognition he deserves as a performer. Like his previous collaborations with Hillcoat, Lawless sees a story played out in desolate locales as the characters fight for desperate survival. The legendary Nick Cave returns for screenwriting duties as he did for The Proposition (his score for The Road was one of the year’s best), and has worked from Matt Bondurant’s 2008 novel The Wettest County In The World. The basis for the novel saw Bondurant dig into his family history to his grandfather and two uncles’ involvement in The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, marking another Hillcoat project concerned with familial ties under pressure.

John Hillcoat is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today; along with Andrew Dominik he’s an Australasian artist on the verge of making a lasting mark in America. After a relatively plodding career following his assured 1988 debut Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead, Hillcoat now seems to be working at a comfortable pace with LeBeouf set to star in his next film, a police  thriller entitled Triple Nine.The young actor must have impressed his director as they set off on another collaboration. For now though, their Lawless has all the ingredients to greatly impress us, so let’s not let this one pass us by and prove that ‘grown up’ cinema is once again thriving.

Lawless is released nationwide on September 7th.

Joseph McDonagh

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