Based on a book by Matt Bondurant about his grandfather, this tale of three bootlegging brothers in Prohibition-era America is violent, in-your-face, visceral and unexpectedly funny (thanks mainly to Tom Hardy and some fantastically timed grunts).
In another Director’s hands, this could easily have been overly long and painfully slow but John Hillcoat does a masterful job at making every scene engrossing, even when not a lot is necessarily happening – a skill he put to impressive use in his 2009 film The Road. His previous partnership with Nick Cave on The Proposition also speaks volumes for a good working relationship that shows on film.
As for the lead trio of actors, Jason Clarke as war veteran and alcoholic elder brother Howard has the least dialogue and the least interesting character. That’s not to say he doesn’t do much with what he is given, and I would quite liked to have learnt a bit more about his history, but he quite clearly from the get go is not designed to do much in the spotlight.
Shia LaBeouf, whilst being good and very watchable, keeps to his trademark position of spunky upstart. Being the youngest and ‘softest’ of the three brothers Jack, he desperately feels the need to prove himself as his own man and this forms the basis of the film’s conflict. He idolises Gary Oldman’s big city mobster Floyd Banner, which proves a very dangerous choice of hero.
Tom Hardy plays Forrest, the middle brother and the leader of the family. Whilst this movie bills LaBeouf as the lead, and that billing works in terms of screen time, it doesn’t work in terms of impact. Whenever Hardy is on screen, you cannot look anywhere else and he successfully continues his run of scene-stealing and film-stealing roles. Forrest is both a terrifyingly quiet source of menace and also, more unexpectedly, the film’s comedic release. I
In supporting roles, Gary Oldman is woefully under-used but does a fine, but not ground-breaking, job as Floyd Banner. Jessica Chastain plays Maggie Beauford, a big city girl fleeing an mysterious past (which we infuriatingly, don’t learn an awful lot about) who comes to work for the Bondurant brothers and subsequently becomes Hardy’s love interest. To start with it feels like she is merely thrown in to be the obligatory female presence but as the film progresses, so does her importance to the piece and I definitely appreciated her more by the end.
Mia Wasikowska plays the preacher’s daughter Bertha and LaBeouf’s love interest – a character of little consequence although she fills the shoes more than adequately. We now come to Guy Pearce’s villain Charlie Rakes and I am torn. On one hand, he was creepy and quite threatening and on the other, slightly too cartoonish and outlandish for me to take entirely seriously (seriously, whose idea was the enormous parting?!).
All in all, I enjoyed this film much more than I was expecting to and as long as you’re not the type to be shy of blood and violence, I highly recommend it.