Tuesday, August 28, 2012

No Nomination Needed

Lawless       Final Cut Score: 88%

When you look at Lawless on paper, you can't deny it possesses an impressive pedigree. Prestigious cast, check. Period piece based on a true story, check. Prominent studio backing, check. The parts appear to be in place for The Weinstein Company's tentpole to make a legit bid for a boatload of Oscar noms.

But as the sports folk are fond of saying: That's why they play the game. Or in this case, dim the lights in the theater and flip the projector on. If Harvey Weinstein is going to continue his streak of squeezing one of his releases in the best picture mix (four consecutive years, looking to make it five), he best have another film in his bag besides Lawless.

Adapted from the 2008 novel, The Wettest County in the World, this is the tale of the Bondurant brothers and their moonshine-running operation in 1930s Appalachia - hillbillies they are. But messing with the king hillbilly, Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy), is likely to get your trachea torn clean out of your neck. The stone-faced, badass of the family runs the day-to-day operations of shipping the boys' swill over the hills and into the city, buying off cops along the dirt road to riches.

The good times come to an end with the arrival of a bloodthirsty lawman played by Guy Pearce, using Christoph Waltz's performance in Inglourious Basterds as the foundation for his bizarrely overblown character. Also escaping the big city for the backwoods, the tommy gun-toting Gary Oldman, a Chicago mobster who demands a piece of the Bondurant's kickapoo pie.

With all sides squeezing the boys Bondurant, the runt of the clan, a wide-eyed Shia LaBeouf, pushes forward with an expansion of their bootlegging business while romancing Mia Wasikowska, the daughter of town's super-strict preacher. Did I mention Jessica Chastain is the boys' bartender back at the homestead? There's no dearth of characters in ex-rock star Nick Cave's overextended screenplay.

Pacing is spot-on from director John Hillcoat (The Road), the Aussie presents a palpable sense of tension from the get-go. Hardy delivers the danger, the guy's an absolute beast. I'd take my chances in a brawl with Bane rather than the brutish Bondurant brother. Hardy completely commands the film whenever his still-swoll-from-playing-Bane frame hits the screen. He and his gravelly-voiced delivery - a la Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade - have an outside shot at an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

There are some absurd elements in play, Hardy's indestructibility chief amongst them. The dude survives both a hellacious throat-slashing and a hail of bullets to the body. Michael Myers would be awestruck.

On the whole, Lawless is a handsome and entertaining effort. Audiences will undoubtedly enjoy the rowdy ride even if it doesn't top any "best of" lists. If the sight-unseen odds for Lawless scoring a best picture nomination were 5-1, I'd put the post-viewing odds at around 50-1. That said, throwing a dollar down in Vegas would be an astute move given Weinstein's knack for nudging less than flawless films into the awards conversation.