Directed by: John Hillcoat (The Road)
The Cast: Shia LaBeouf (Transformer Films), Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises), Jason Clarke (Texas Killing Fields), Guy Pearce (Prometheus), Jessica Chastain (Texas Killing Fields), Mia Wasikowska (Albert Nobbs), Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises)
This much anticipated film arrives about as half-baked as a roadside peach pie. You have to admire the film’s craftsmanship and acting, but it fails to rise above its aimless and overlong length, and ultimately becomes an uneasy mix of backwoods “aw shucks” and Prohibition-era gangster cool. I don’t know why I expected more from the director of 2009’s oppressive, unrelenting, boring, and depressing film “The Road.” The same thing that happened there happens here, great performances all around, but lacking as a satisfying tale.
Here’s the storyline:
Set in 1931 Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, the three Bondurant brothers run a bootlegging operation up in the mountains. Crooked Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Pearce) is after a share of the brothers’ profits. Compounding the brother’s problems, the local competition is elbowing in on their activities, they want part of the brother’s local monopoly. When oldest brother Forrest (Hardy) is wounded, tension with Rakes escalates into all out war. While all this is going on, Jack (LaBeouf), initially the timid younger brother, must prove his worth against gangster Floyd Banner’s (Oldman) mob, while attempting to woo the preacher’s daughter, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). It’s all based on the true-life story of the three brothers, as written by family member Matt Bondurant.
I’m a LaBeouf fan and I like watching what he does on film. Here he gives a mature, well-crafted performance that has a steady metered growth throughout the tale, it’s painful to watch, but fun, just like real life. However, it’s actually Tom Hardy playing older brother, Forrest, in a role loosely reminiscent of Warren Beatty in “Bonnie & Clyde,” who comes off as the most interesting character; well meaning and protective, but scary dangerous and completely indestructible. Kudos also go to Jessica Chastain who brings a beautifully strong but vulnerable presence to her role. Unfortunately, Gary Oldman, the best bad guy on film today, is totally underused, and Guy Pearce’s performance is so over the top, he becomes nothing more than a cartoon.
The film work is really beautiful here, recreating its rural setting during the days of Prohibition perfectly, but be warned the action comes quick and as compelling as it is, it’s nothing less than gruesome. More or less I see the film as average, if you like this kind of tale, head to the theaters, if not, it’ll be out on disk soon, catch it there.