Feb 26, 2016

Alternative to What: "Lawless" (2011)

Scene from Lawless
Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

Lawless (2011)
- Alternative To -
Triple 9 (2016)

Speaking as this week is also The Academy Awards, it seems unfortunate to note that there's also new movies coming out. While many could fill their time with seeing these, there are likely those that will preoccupy themselves with catching the last bits and pieces to their Oscar soft spots. However, there's something to Triple 9 that seems rather interesting. It's from director John Hillcoat who I would argue is an underrated director largely because his work has been consistently great, but hasn't been getting much attention. While one could easily argue that you watch The Road this weekend, it feels more tonally appropriate to suggest something like Lawless, which takes Southern accents and charm, and mixes it in with a crime story regarding moonshine. To say the least, it's a fun little movie with a series of great performances, including some by Tom Hardy, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, and Jessica Chastain to name a few.
So, what exactly gives Lawless a certain charm? It has plenty going on that definitely helps it get by on rural authenticity. There's Hardy doing one of his penchant accents that nobody understands. Likewise, it has Shia LeBouf in a pre-meltdown performance in which he manages to play confident and weak in equal strides. Of course, the whole film works mostly because Hillcoat has a strong sense of what the south would feel like in the 1930's. Even if the film is a rough and tumble production where the violence is a lot more fun than the story, it's still one of those peculiar exercises in style that makes you wish that period pieces were a lot more common in cinema. It also helps that the scenery and costumes also look pretty great.
What likely gives it the edge is that it's one of the films about criminals that commits to the idea of the law not meaning anything. For starters, almost all problems are solved with violence as the women look on, wondering why things needed to come to this in the first place. As the plot progresses, the urgency for law definitely begins to feel needed in order to survive. However, the danger is what works for the film, and it largely has a sense of place thanks to Hardy. While the joke would become that Hardy is unintelligible in every role, he definitely makes up for it in ridiculous size, likely bulking up here for the following year's The Dark Knight Rises. Even then, he's an intimidating force, and one that you visually don't want to mess with

It doesn't seem likely that Hillcoat's breakthrough movie will be Triple 9. In fact, there's a good chance that the pattern will hold that his films remain in somewhat obscurity. While The Road has maintained a certain legacy, Lawless has unfortunately become forgotten to the times, and most people wouldn't remember it as one of Hardy's many transformative roles. To their credit, it may not be the greatest movie about the Great Depression. However, it's one of those where the cast is having a lot of fun and, considering how successful they have all been since, there's not a dull performance in the bunch. Even LeBouf turns in a worthwhile performance. To say the least, Hillcoat can do period pieces justice while keeping them fun.
While it doesn't look likely that Triple 9 is going to be his greatest work, one should note that the director knows how to do fun. I think that there's something to his characters' dynamic that is inevitably catchy and brings out something engaging. Considering that his latest film has a star studded cast, I am willing to accept that maybe he will get that part right. While the marketing for Triple 9 has been underwhelming, I do think that it may stand a chance in eventually getting the credit it deserves. In fact, I hope that Hillcoat eventually does because if you see Lawless, you'll understand how kinetic his direction actually is.

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