Film Review: Lawless (dir. by John Hillcoat)

For most of 2012, I was excited about seeing one film and that film was Lawless.  Why was I so excited about seeing Lawless?  Well, first off, I had spent most of the year being bombarded by the film’s genuinely exciting trailer.  Seriously, that trailer was more entertaining than 80% of the film that I’ve seen this year.  Judging from the trailer, the film was a period piece that took place during one of my favorite decades, the 1920s.  The film dealt with bootleggers and I’m proud to say that there’s a few of those on my family tree.  The trailer also featured Gary Oldman firing a tommy gun, Jessica Chastain dancing, Guy Pearce acting odd, and Tom Hardy being all tough and Tom Hardy-like.

When I watched that trailer, it didn’t matter that the film starred Shia LeBouf (who has always struck me as being a bit of a whiney actor).   It didn’t matter that director John Hillcoat previously wasted good material with his adaptation of The Road.  It didn’t even matter that the film was greeted with indifference at Cannes.  “Oh,” I told myself, “that’s just the French critics being reflexively anti-American.  Lawless has Truffaut written all over it…”

The only thing that tempered my enthusiasm for Lawless was when the first of the 30-second commercials started to appear on television.  As opposed to the exciting trailer, these commercials made the film seem rather average and they now put less emphasis on the film’s stylistic excesses and more on the fact that the film was apparently “based on a true story.”  The tone of the television spots was so different from that of the theatrical trailer that it was hard not to conclude that the PR geniuses at the Weinstein Company weren’t sure how to sell the film.  I found myself wondering if Lawless would be as confused as its ad campaign.

Last Friday, I finally saw Lawless and judged for myself.

Lawless tells the story of the three Bondurant brothers.  In the 1920s, these brothers are succesful bootleggers who work out of rural Virginia and who maintain a peaceful coexistence with local law enforcement through a steady supply of bribes.  The oldest brother is a taciturn World War I veteran named Forrest (played by Tom Hardy.)  The youngest brother is Jack (Shia LeBouf), who idolizes violent gangsters like Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman).  The middle brother is Howard (Jason Clarke).  Howard spends most of the movie yelling.

Things are peaceful for the Bondurant brothers until, one day, a corrupt and oddly fastidious prohibition agent named Rakes (Guy Pearce) shows up and demands a cut of whatever profit the brothers make from their bootlegging.  Forrest refuses and soon Rakes and the Bondurants are engaged in a very violent and bloody war.

That war, however, doesn’t stop Jack from pursuing a relationship with a rebellious preacher’s daughter (played by Mia Wasikowska).  Meanwhile, Forrest hires a new waitress to work at the family bar.  Maggie (Jessica Chastain) is a former dancer from Chicago and soon, she and Forrest are cautiously pursuing their own relationship.  As for Howard, he yells a lot.

Lawless is an odd film.  The actors are all well-cast and Shia LeBouf probably gives his first genuinely good performance here.  The film’s violent action sequences are well-choreographed and one could even argue that, in the character of Rakes, the film is drawing a very relevent parallel to America’s own modern-day war on drugs.  And yet, as I watched the film, I felt oddly detached from the action onscreen and the Bondurants never came to life for me as individual characters that were worth rooting for.  I think the ultimate problem with Lawless is the same problem that Hillcoat ran into with The Road.  Lawless is a film full of beautiful visuals and striking sequences but none of it seems to naturally flow together.  As a result, the film is visually striking but narratively weak.

As a result, Lawless is ultimately a case of the triumph of style over substance.  How you react to the film will probably depend on how much importance you put into either one of those two elements.  If you’re willing to accept the film simply as a collection of striking visuals (as I was), you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Lawless but if you’re looking for something deeper, you’ll probably be disappointed.

You’re also going to be disappointed if you go to Lawless expecting to see a Gary Oldman film because Oldman is only in about four minutes of the film, his best scene is in the trailer, and his character lacks that touch of eccentric charisma that Oldman typically brings to his villains.  Instead, it falls to Guy Pearce to be eccentric and evil and he does a great job.  Sporting an accent as odd as his haircut, Pearce brings a brilliantly perverse jolt to even the simplest of line readings.  Lawless is at its best when its content to just let Guy Pearce play at being Gary Oldman.

Lawless: Trailer #2

As I’ve mentioned on this site before, Lawless is the movie that I’m most excited about seeing later this year. 

It’s not necessarily that I think it’s going to be a great film or because I’ve suddenly managed to figure out the appeal of Shia LeBouf (though he does look about as appealing as I’ve ever seen him look in the previews for this film). 

No, I’m looking forward to Lawless because it looks like it’s going to be a stylish and sexy throwback to the classic gangster films of the past.  As I’ve been saying for a few months now, Lawless captured me the minute I saw Gary Oldman firing that tommy gun and smirking at the camera.  Add to that, this film’s original trailer also featured Tom Hardy at his Tom Hardiest and Guy Pearce with one of the weirdest movie haircuts (not to mention accents) ever. 

(Plus, the film apparently features dancing!  Yay!)

A second trailer for Lawless was released earlier today and you can view it below.  While this second trailer contains many scenes that should be familiar from the first trailer, it also puts a lot more emphasis on the film’s violence in general and Tom Hardy in specific.  I have to wonder if that has anything to do with all the buzz surrounding Hardy’s villanous performance in the upcoming Dark Knight Rises.

Lawless opens August 31st and I know I’ll be there.

Trailer: Lawless

This trailer has been out for a while now but I still want to post it here because, I have to admit, I have slowly fallen in love with it.  Lawless appears to be a stylish period piece about ruthless men shooting each other and, quite frankly, after sitting through such ponderous and overly serious films as Public Enemies and J. Edgar, I think we’re all in the mood for a prohibition gangster film that’s actually fun to watch.

There are three reasons why I think Lawless might be good and those three reasons are: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, and Guy Pearce (though I do have to wonder what exactly is going on with Pearce’s hair).  Seriously, this trailer had me as soon as Oldman flashed that little smirk of his.  As for Tom Hardy — well, I’m with Jessica Chastain on this one.  I’d dance for him too.

There are a few reasons to be concerned.  Director John Hillcoat previously directed The Road, which I didn’t really care for.  (The end of the world might be many things but it should never be boring.)  However, my biggest concern is the fact that even though the film features Hardy, Oldman, Pearce, and Chastain, it apparently stars Shia LeBouf.  When I saw Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I had to keep reminding myself that the film was actually about LeBouf because he just seemed so forgettable and watching the trailer for Lawless, I find myself wondering how, if LeBouf couldn’t even summon up enough charisma to hold the screen against Michael Douglas, how is he going to handle being in a film with Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman?

Trailer: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Official Theatrical)

OK, this latest trailer for Michael Bay’s third entry in the Transformers film franchise looks to try and ask forgiveness from it’s fans about what had transpired with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (cough, cough…Twins). This latest trailer looks to mine the current alien invasion trend happening in Hollywood for the last year or two.

I’m not going to say that Transformers: Dark of the Moon will be in the running for Best Picture, Best Screenplay or even Best Acting awards come awards season, but I do get a feeling from this trailer that this third entry will be darker and infinitely more fun and watchable than the second film. I actually think that Dark of the Moon is the true first sequel to the first film and that Revenge of the Fallen never occurred.

The look of Shockwave (one red-eye) is pretty awesome as are the look of the invading Decepticons (or are they another faction). I remember talk of Unicron (the giant planet transformer) was to appear in this film but I’m not sure if Unicron will appear as a planet or that giant snake-like transformer that was giving that Chicago high-rise a major case of the hugs.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is set for a July 1, 2011 release date.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Super Bowl TV Spot)

I think most everyone will admit that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen wasn’t very good and to some people it was just one piece of turd. Even Michael Bay himself has admitted that the first sequel just tried to do too much without any sort of plan on how to pull it off.

Now, we have the third film and what looks like, at least from the trailer, may be a tad better. There seems to be more focus on the transformers themselves and the two sides fighting it out with lots of human collateral damage.

I sure hope this third film is not going to be like the second and more like the first but this time with invasion to make it more epic. The film comes out on July 1, 2011.


The 10 Worst Films of 2010

Sometime during the first week of January, I’ll post my picks for the top 25 films of 2010.  But for now, I’m going to go ahead and post the much more fun list, my picks for the 10 Worst Films of 2010.

10)  Knight and Day — Tom Cruise gets creepier with each film.

9) Robin Hood — Sorry, but that “I declare him to be an …. OUTLAWWWWWW!” line can only carry a film so far. 

8 ) Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps — Money may never sleep but Lisa Marie did.  Shia LeBouf as a financial genius?  Plus, any film that so completely wastes the talents of Carey Mulligan deserves to be on this list.  The Other Guys got across the exact same message and was actually entertaining.

7) Eat Pray Love — Finally, a film that tells us all how to find peace, enlightenment, and happiness.  First off, have a lot of money.  Secondly, be Julia Roberts.

6) Solitary Man — A superb performance from Michael Douglas can’t disguise the fact that this is yet another entry in the “Men-Just-Can’t-Help-It” genre of film. 

5) Hereafter — This is, quite frankly, one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen in my life.  And I’ve seen a lot of boring films.  This is also one of those films that attempts to convince you that it’s a quality production by making all the actors look as crappy as possible.  Seriously, did they just pump collagen into Jay Mohr’s face?

4) Clash of the Titans — Zeus must be turning over in his grave.

3) Chloe — Great director (Atom Egoyan), great cast (Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried), terrible movie.  I’m still trying to understand how this one came about.

2) The American — An homage to the French New Wave that fails because it is neither French nor new and there’s also a notable lack of waves.

1) Love and Other Drugs — What makes this film the worst of 2010?  The beginning, the middle, and the end.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Teaser Trailer)

Well, what is there to say about the Transformers franchise other than it is what it is. A special-effects heavy flick about a Hasbro toyline from the 80’s that has become a sensation (a good first film with a sub-par follow-up) that’s made millions worldwide. The fact that Michael Bay (who I tend to believe as only a step above Uwe Boll in his talent as a filmmaker) is the filmmaker in charge of the franchise almost guarantees that each film will be a hit no matter what critics say.

Now we have the third film in the series with the very Pink Floyd-ish title which I am sure Pink Floyd fans are none to happy about. The film is deep into its film schedule and the fact that there’s now a teaser trailer with still 7 months to go before its July 1, 2011 release tells me that pre-production on this project began either as soon as the second film premiered or while it was finishing post.

Gone in this third and, as Michael Bay announced earlier, final film in the series is Megan Fox thus Shia LeBouf’s character Sam Witwicky will have a new love interest in English model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Most of the cast from both previous films will return and so do most of the primary Transformers on both sides. With the Fallen having fallen in the second film this third entry will bring in one of the more popular Decepticons in Shockwave to act as the main villain. How they’ll work this part of the script into having Shockwave being the main heavy despite Megatron still appearing in the film will be interesting to see.

In the end, the film will have great special-effects courtesy of ILM with chaos and destruction as seen through the mad-eyes of Bay. The wild card is whether Bay has learned how to work the 3-D cameras used to film the project from beginning to end. Because no matter what people may think of James Cameron he seems to be the only one who has figured out how to properly create an immersive 3-D film and not lose out on the action end.

Will Bay’s hyper-kinetic and MTV-style editing be able to work well with 3-D or will this third film just end up making its entire audience nauseous and I don’t mean from the film’s plot. We’ll soon find out this coming July.