Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. It’s appropriate that my first real screening at Cannes was at the Grand Theatre Lumiere. You know it if you’ve ever seen Cannes represented on film or television… it’s that giant set of red-carpeted steps that lead up into a massive auditorium.
I gotta say, it’s kind of a trip taking those steps onto the red carpet. I felt suddenly underdressed. The Gala Screenings at the Lumiere every night are the black tie affairs, but these early screenings are come as you are. I didn’t show up wearing flip-flops and a ragged t-shirt, but still… jeans and sneakers kinda felt wrong on the read carpet.
But I didn’t get yelled at by the many festival officials, so I guess I was presentable enough to be let into the theater.
Man, any cinephile that sees a movie here has to go home super pissed off. I was about 73,000 feet away from the screen, in the upper balcony… and the sound, screen size and brightness was so superb that I didn’t feel that huge gulf between me and film.
It also helped that the movie was pretty great, too. Lawless (formerly titled The Wettest County In The World) is historical drama with some borderline ridiculous/awesome (Ridicusome? Awesomlous?) flourishes that you should have come to expect from a John Hillcoat film by now.
The dude’s batting 1000 in my opinion. I loved The Proposition and The Road, although I’m disappointed that if they were going to change the title from The Wettest County in the World to Lawless they didn’t throw a “The” in front of it so it fit with the rest of his filmography. The Lawless! Tell me I’m wrong. (I know I’m wrong, don’t tell me).
Of his filmography The Proposition is the closest tonally to Lawless, which features a family of moonrunners in 1930s Virginia. Lawless is a slow burn, but Hillcoat smartly uses that to kind of lull you into a passive state so he can sucker punch us with a bit of unexpected badassness. There’s some heavy violence in this flick… oh, and did I mention Gary Oldman shoots down a charging Ford with a Tommy Gun? That too.
But I’m getting all scattershot here. I won’t be able to continue the review until I just list a few bits of random awesomeness:
Guy Pearce plays a federal agent that is so weird that he’s essentially a Prohibition-era Agent Dammers, Gary Oldman plays a mobster that does violence with guns and shovels and is somehow charming while doing it, Tom Hardy is kind of the redneck terminator in the movie, Jessica Chastain is hotter than she’s ever been, Shia LaBeouf gets beat up a lot, Chronicle’s Dane Dehaan turns in a great, super sympathetic performance, brass knuckles are used to devastating effect and all this is based on true events.
Phew. Okay, thanks for letting me gush that out. Now where were we?
At the heart of this tale is a fractured family dynamic. LaBeouf plays the runt of the litter, the smallest of his siblings. He has lots of ambition, but no real gumption. Tom Hardy is the leader, the oldest and toughest of the brothers and Jason Clarke is the crazy brute of the family. He’s kind of like a hillbilly drunken master. When he’s sauced up you don’t want to get on his bad side. Trouble is he’s always sauced up.
There’s a lot of tough love going around the Bondurant brothers and unfortunately Shia sees most of the tough part and not so much the love part. But underneath it all there’s a real sense of kinship.
I know the logline of the movie is about the county putting pressure on the moonshine business during prohibition and that is the beat that drive the plot, but the film really is about family and how each of these brothers compliment each other as they try to make their way in the world. That’s what sets Lawless apart from the myriad of other prohibition-era films.
That and the violence. And the weird-ass bad guy. Special Agent Charlie Rakes is a helluva character and Guy Pearce plays him for all he’s worth. The man is a psychotic, pampered, eyebrow-less monster who has it in for this family… not because they’re breaking the law, but because they’re somehow less corrupt than he is and refuse to play ball when he tries to cut in on their action.
LaBeouf catches a lot of undeserved shit, I think, but he’s particularly strong here. He’s perfectly cast as the wuss that has to learn to grow some balls. His B-story romance with Mia Wasikowska is sweet, innocent and utterly charming, an interesting counter-point to the similar love interest storyline Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain have. Jack Bondurant is sensitive, a romantic. Forrest Bondurant… eh, not so much. But he’s just the right kind of guy for Chastain’s Maggie.
On a technical level, this film is aces. Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography is ridiculously lush and moody at the same time. Nick Cave’s score has that note perfect Southern Americana twang. Chris Kennedy’s production design is that perfect authentic period realism that isn’t so proud of itself it’s the center of attention. The sound design is also amazing, with a particular scene in a church as the congregation worships in song that gave me goosebumps.
In fact everything’s top notch in this film. It really, really worked for me and considering that the Weinsteins have this I imagine we’ll be seeing a big awards push, especially for the actors.
I have a feeling that the seemingly unexpected violence is going to draw comparisons to Drive and if I were the filmmakers I’d embrace that because it’ll only bring more people to the movie… even if it’s not exactly a new style for Hillcoat.
Anyway, so far so good! Bring it on, Cannes! What else you got?