Monday, September 10, 2012

Still Life With Peckerwoods

Over at Ransom Notes I listed some of my favorite fictional bootleggers inspired by having just seen John Hillcoat's Lawless. The bootlegger, that back wood independent, swinging away with the big hickory fuck-it stick is an archetype I've been especially enjoying recently. I'd want to revisit Lawless soon. In fact I'd really like to see it back to back with The Proposition for comparison. Both films revolve around sets of three brothers living on the far side of the law whose chief antagonist is a foppish sadist (Guy Pearce in Lawless, David Wenham in The Proposition) who get their rocks off, dishing out punishment for law and order types, and both films kick around in oft-romanticized eras of high criminality - westward expansion and prohibition. Did I dig Lawless? Hell yeah. Was it as good as The Proposition? Nope. But then, what is?

Both have Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave going for them, and both have great casts and amazing landscape to muck about with, but where The Proposition is focused and precise - with a simplicity of  conceit in the opening moments (kill your one brother by Christmas or I'll kill your other) - Lawless is a scatter gun plug at a shaggy-dog of a plot (it's about this, no it's about this, no, really it's about this over here) - which may be the result of it being an adaptation of a novel (Matt Bondurant's The Wettest County in the World) and a reluctance to pare down the source material further (I bet Bondurant's book would make a fantastic television series).

And, for all the concern out there that Shia LaBeouf's presence was going to fuck up the badass stew, I'm happy to report that he does not. It should be noted that his role is to be the weak-link in the brotherhood and not, as the film's marketers may have you believe, on an equal plane of hardness as Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Pearce or Gary Oldman. (he's the Mike Burns of the bunch or Richard Wilson to Hardy's Danny Huston). Believe it or not, it's Hardy's performance that grates more. His mush-mouthed tough-guy thing is wearing thin (after Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises), and there's no dangerous spark of Charlie Bronson to leaven this role either. Instead, his Forrest Bondurant comes across more mentally impaired than crafty, formidable or imposing - his idea of "Controlling the fear" seems to be to act confused any time any body says or does any thing to him.

But enough of the nitpicking, Lawless has some damn good things going for it. Too many amazing moments break through, too many little touches that nail the intangible and never quite articulated targets of the script, to treat the picture as anything but a welcome, worthy and exciting addition to the canon. How about that scene in the church? Fuckin lovely music - and I kept thing about Peter Farris's Last Call For the Living - wondering if it was about to jump off into bat-shit violence. And the violence. Ah, the violence. Rather like last year's Nicolas Winding Refn offering Drive, there is no such thing as casual violence in this picture. Every violent encounter is terrifying, from the beat down LaBeouf takes from Pearce to the throat-punching Hardy gives that dude in the bar - just wow - awful, the way film violence ought to be.

And if we're talking about memorable screen violence of late, I've got to mention Killer Joe. I've had more than one interaction with persons on the street, in the office, or at the coffee joint who were shook up by that one. You know the one, I mean. And I love to hear them talk about that scene, all the horrible things going on... reminds me of Angelica Huston and Pat Hingle in Stephen Frears' The Grifters. I once heard a panel discussion on violence in pictures where a side-trip was made into discussing the scene where Hingle beats the shit out of Huston with a bag of oranges. Remember that one? No you don't. It wasn't in the movie. Instead, Hingle forces Huston to stuff the bag with fruit and explain why he's going to beat her with it. It's a horribly intense scene and a testament to the power of the film making that even though no onscreen violence occurred, you do remember every single (non-existent blow).

So, how good a year is fucking Matthew McConaughey having? It's sick the sudden jump in quality, not to mention quantity, of pictures he's appearing in in 2012. What the hell happened? Not a single Kate Hudson rom-com on the list this year.

Consider that, so far, he's carried weight in films by Steven Sodebergh (Magic Mike), Richard Linklater (Bernie) and William Friedkin (Killer Joe) and he's still got Lee Daniels' The Paperboy and Jeff Nichols' Mud yet to land before the Mayans disappear.

Am I a particular fan of M&M's? Not really. Never had anything against him other than that the projects he chose didn't always fail to suck, but I have to stop and take notice when any body's career makes this sharp a turn for the better.

1 comment:

Mike Dennis said...

Agree on KILLER JOE, Jed. Great foray into redneck noir. I also loved the sex scene between McConaughey and Juno Temple. Hell, I loved every scene.

For more, check out my review of it at

Shameless promo? Sure, but what jerkoff doesn't want people to read his shit?