Cannes Report: Lawless With Hardy And LaBeouf Is Violent But Stunning

Peter Willis is our man in Cannes. He is the co-owner of WhatCulture and will bringing you daily coverage of the 65th Cannes Film Festival. You will find him occasionally tweeting@peter_willis.

It seems like Lawless might be a bit of a marmite affair. As with Drive 12 months ago, it's dividing critics right down the line. On one side it is "boring", "tedious", "just about watchable". On the other, much larger, side it is "stunning", "the best in decades", "immense".

And, like Drive, I loved it.

The movie is set in prohibition-era Franklink County, Virginia, and follows three brothers whose bootlegging empire comes under threat as the authorities eye up a share of the profits.

While there's nothing new here as such, it is a tale which is delivered with such brilliance from every angle that Lawless has put its self on the highest of pedestals within the Gangster genre.

Guy Pearce, playing Special Agent Rakes, offers up one of the most menacing villain performances we've seen in recent years, while Tom Hardy is absolutely huge. Not so much metaphorically, via his grumbling performance, but literally, via his muscles. At first I felt he looked almost a little bit too big, but as the story unravels and the invincibility of his character becomes apparent, his mass seems appropriate enough.

His on-screen brothers, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke, both offer up some of their strongest performances to date, LaBeouf being a particular stand-out given his questionable catalogue to date.

The movie was originally to be named (in a fashion) after the novel upon which it is based, but mercifully The Wettest County was dropped for the far more commercilly exploitable Lawless.

A scene of a pig getting shot in the head brought gasps from many in the 2,300 strong audience this morning, but by the time the curtain came down, they probably will have felt that their gasp should have been saved.

There was certainly no holding back when it came to the violence, with a selection of torture methods that almost put Hostel to shame; some fine knuckle-duster punches from Hardy; genital mutilation and more. And, naturally for Cannes, there was plenty of nudity thrown in for good measure.

The version witnessed today at Cannes will surely require a few cuts to get it down even to an R rating.

Regardless of the box office limitations, the movie is a triumph for director John Hillcoat, and is certain to find success on other formats.

Additional screen time for Gary Oldman's character could have added depth to what was perhaps an overly simplistic narrative, and some at-times incomprehensible vocals require touching up in the editing suite,* but neither of these niggles prevent Lawless from being one of the finest crime/gangster flicks since The Departed.

Yesterday afternoon I caught Beasts of the Southern Wild. Having already taken home a Grand Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival, Benh Zeitlin's directorial debut was screening as part of the Un Certain Regard category in Cannes.

I think it's fair to say that the current storyline offered up by IMDB is likely going to be one of the movies biggest marketing downfalls:

Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in "the Bathtub," a southern Delta community at the edge of the world.

Wink's tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he's no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack-temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs.

With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink's health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother.

Had this been all I had read about the movie (in actual fact, I hadn't read anything) I probably would have skipped it and headed straight to Happy Hour.

OK, so yes it's about a bunch of people living in the Bathtub with the melting ice caps screwing things up, and yes it's got huge prehistoric pig-like animals, but it's much more than that and to present it in this manner just isn't doing justice.

The original score, by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin himself, was both uplifting and powerful. It accompanied some stunning cinematography and a remarkable monologue by young newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, playing Hushpuppy, to create one of the finest opening movie sequences ever to grace the Palais.

Perhaps more amazing than Wallis' performance was that of Dwight Henry who prior to making this film had never acted before and was nothing more than an aspiring restaurateur. Henry came to Zeitlin's attention in the aftermath of the Katrina devastation, where he was working to rebuild his life and business.

Following Sundance the NYTimes put Wright onto a list of 5 breakout actors for this summer, but whether or not we see him on screen again in unknown. I for one certainly hope that we do.

In Cannes, yesterday's tropical rain has been replaced by howling winds. I can't decide which I prefer. I presume tomorrow we will have both at the same time, so I'll be able to let you know then. Staying around 5 miles outside of Cannes means I have both a moderately lengthy walk as well as a bus ride to get me here. As I write this therefore, in the press room on the first floor of the Palais, I am sat staring with great envy at the several-hundred-euro per night apartments which sit across the way.

This afternoon I am heading to see Antiviral, directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of the Cannes award winning Director David Cronenberg, while later this evening I'll be swapping the big screen for a small screen to watch the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich.

*Brendon's note: The curse of Tom Hardy strikes again?

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