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I was starting to think John Hillcoat was allergic to fun.
While I admire Hillcoat's commitment to the grim aesthetic he's pursued over his last few films, "The Proposition" and especially "The Road" are punishing experiences for a viewer. Hillcoat seems to take some sort of pleasure in emotionally demolishing his audience, and he's seemed somewhat unwilling to even let in a little bit of light.
Now that we've got a trailer for "Lawless," his new film, I am more excited than I already was about seeing it at Cannes next month. This looks like a blast, and it may well end up being the most commercial thing he's ever done as a filmmaker.
Originally titled "The Wettest County In The World," this is based on a novel by Matt Bondurant, and it looks like Hillcoat assembled an amazing cast for the film. Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska are all glimpsed in the trailer, and even from this brief look, it seems like Hillcoat's struck a pretty great tone for the whole thing, and on a pretty large scale. Set during the moonshining days of Prohibition, it's the story of a family who starts making money with corn liquor, only to get drawn into a war with the government men assigned to keep their county dry. Bondurant's book is based on his family's real story, and as such, it's grounded in the very real and disturbing way that laws were selectively enforced during Prohibition.
I haven't read the book or the script, but this trailer seems to give away a pretty big spoiler. All I'll say is keep your eyes on Hardy's neck, then do the math based on another sequence we glimpse in the trailer. I'm glad to see LaBeouf in this, finally trying something outside the big Hollywood event films again. I think he's a strong young actor who got sidelined by success, and this sort of ensemble film could be a nice change of pace for him. Pearce looks like he'll be gnawing on scenery with glee, and the idea of him going head to head with Gary Oldman is exciting.
Mainly, though, it just looks alive, like everyone brought their A-game and wanted to do something special. I hope the film lives up to this first glimpse, and you can rest assured, Guy Lodge and I will both be weighing in on the film once the Cannes Film Festival gets underway on May 16.
"Lawless" opens in the US on August 31, 2012.