Moonshiners As Heroes

If there’s one kind of Americana that gets a real bad rap, that would be hillbillies. It’s mostly unfair that the mountain folk get so much hazing from cityslickers, Hollywood is decidedly hostile about the denizens of the woods and rivers. Just think of ‘Deliverance’ with a naked Ned Beatty on all fours being yelled at, “squeal like a a pig!”

Surely it’s a kind of stereotyping that you worry about. So it is totally against the grain of American cinema culture that a film gets made where the hillbillies are the good guys. Of course the script is by Nick Cave and it’s directed by John Hillcoat (which is enough to make my heart sink based on ‘The Road’) so it explains the decidedly counter-to-the-mainstream ethos.

This one is peculiar all the way through. The action cues just don’t seem to happen where you might expect them. Don’t expect Al Capone and the Valentine Day Massacre, just because the title says ‘Lawless’. It’s more like a study in the hillbilly ethos. Unsurprsingly, it has a few Aussies in it.

What’s Good About It

The cast is pretty good in this nugget. Tom Hardy in particular puts in a really nuanced performance. He’s very interesting in this film because we know he’s an Englishman and here he is doing his best hillbilly. Shia LaBeouf is also good, perhaps with too much baggage already and Jessica Chastain remains the ‘it girl’ of difficult movies.Gary Oldman does a kind of cameo as a city gangster boss, which is cool.

The landscape of West Virginia is breathtaking in parts and deeply evocative of a way of life with its rich greens and dark shadows. The period feel is excellent.

What’s Bad About it

With all the good stuff going on in front of the camera, you get the feeling it just doesn’t rise to the kind of volcanic action it ought to. Tom Hardy’s Forrest tells Shia LaBeouf’s Jack that a man has to know how far he will go, but Jack spends the whole film not really getting to any kind of place until the very end where he stands over the villainous Charlie Rakes played by Guy Pearce at his death. If that;s going all the way, then we sure wait for it for a long time, and if it is, it sure seems like not much of a molehill to climb.

The la men are pretty gormless and dumb all around, while Pearce’s OCD Charlie Rakes is a peculiar villain who doesn’t really blossom into the kind of evil you’d expect. The other thing is that we’re more familiar with this kind of dynamic as a result of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ so it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise.

What’s Interesting About It

All the different guns, all the different cars. Surprisingly, it’s a very prop heavy film, which is always fun to watch. the production design might be the best part of this film in some ways as it delivers the most enjoyment. Well, that and Noah Taylor getting clubbed in the head with a spade by Gary Oldman.

The music is downright weird because it’s Nick Cave doing bluegrass covers without being a bluegrass kind of player. It’s not without merit but all the same it sounds weird, and pokes out at you from the sound track as being not quite right, which in turn adds to the interest.

Other than that, it’s really not that challenging a film.


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