Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: John Hillcoat
A KVIFF screening of Australian director John Hillcoat’s latest Prohibition period drama about bootleggers, I have watched his breakthrough western piece THE PROPOSITION (2005) but the DVD of his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s unadaptable THE ROAD (2009) is still on my shelf (I do need a potent motivation to watch this one).
This time, Hillcoat allies with his old pal Nick Cave (who is billed as the screenwriter and unsurprisingly co-writes the original music with Warren Ellis), and musters a pack of red-hot Hollywood names (from his third-time collaborator and fellow countryman Guy Pearce, to the Hollywood new talent Jessica, Mia, Tom and of course, Shia, until a career-revived Gary Oldman), the star power is dazzling and the film is carried out in a compelling way to some extent one would be carried away by the narrative and put the based-on-a-true-story tag out of mind (save for the moderately disappointing coda).
It is an actor’s battlefield, Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf are the leading men of the story, the brotherhood bondage (with Jason Clarke as the brother between) is mingled with bloody violence and sporadic laughters (thanks to Tom Hardy’s bullish grunts and his unquenchable life-force, an amazingly effortless performance). Shia, on the other hand, is the one who experiences the catharsis in his maturation from boy to man through the bootleg business.
Jessica Chastain, a rare strong female foil among the riots packed netherworld, steals the show using her hauntingly absorbing gravitation and Mia Wasikowska by and large sidelines with her more naturalistic presence. Guy Pearce’s portrayal of the chief villain is quite disconcerting and horrendous, but compared with an impeccable exemplar from Javier Bardem’s Oscar-garlanded role in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007), his character falls superficial and lack of a bit deeper excavation.
The film could have surged high if only the final shootout scene had been honed up onto a more stunning spectacle, but in fact, instead of manifesting the thin line between life and death which is founded on intrepidity of the character and adroitness of utilizing the pistols, it has been dwindled into a blunt gun-down game as if they are shooting a film-in-the-film set piece, which is pitifully unable to lift the film’s suspended tension.