Movies: 'Lawless' and 'The Imposter'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters.
Set in 1931 during the early years of Prohibition and the Great Depression, John Hillcoat's uber-violent gangster/Western introduces the legendary Bondurants, a trio of bootlegging brothers who controlled whiskey manufacturing and distribution in Franklin County in the backwoods of Virginia.
Hot-headed Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest and serves as the narrator. Big, boozy Howard (Jason Clarke) is the oldest but he's still shell-shocked from World War I so his role is, basically, that of an enforcer, which leaves the taciturn middle son, Forrest (Tom Hardy), as the brains behind the family business.
Their parents died in the Spanish flu epidemic and they run a rural cafe/feed store/gas station that serves as a front for their moonshine operation, which is disrupted by the arrival of corrupt Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce), who wants a share of profits generated by their particularly high-grade hooch, carefully concocted by crippled Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan) at their secret distillery.
A fastidious dandy, Rakes is a sadistic psychopath whose pastimes are rape and murder. Plus there's notorious Chicago mobster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). Jack's girlfriend is a Mennonite minister's rebellious daughter, Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), while Forrest is involved with Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), a former burlesque "dancer" from Chicago. But the women get short-shrift insofar as screen time goes.
Adapted by musician/screenwriter Nick Cave (who contributes a fiddle/banjo score) from Matt Bondurant's 2008 semi-biographical novel, "The Wettest County in the World," in the hands of Australian director John Hillcoat, best known for his post-apocalyptic parable "The Road" (2009), working with cinematographer Benoit Delhomme and editor Dylan Tichenor, the crime-saga carnage emerges as a menacingly artistic Americana relic.
Despite its obvious visual merits, there's an auditory problem with the actors' pseudo-Appalachian accents. Tom Hardy, who growled his villainous way through "The Dark Knight Rises" with a mask covering his face, is perhaps the worst offender, sounding nothing like his moonshining "brothers" Jason Clarke or Shia LeBeouf.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Lawless" is an uneven yet vividly stylishly 6, filled with brutal bloodshed.
This compelling psychological thriller intercuts interviews with dramatizations to relate the almost unbelievable-but-true story of a 23-year-old French Algerian who assumed the identity of a teenager from Texas.
In 1994, a 13-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared on his way home near San Antonio, Texas. His family assumed that he was picked up by a stranger, abducted and killed. But they lived with uncertainty until -- three and one-half years later -- they got a call informing them that a boy had been found in Linares, Spain, who claimed to be Nicholas.
Smirking 23-year-old Fredric Bourdin was a clever con man who, seeking safe asylum, contacted U.S. police stations, inquiring about missing children. When he learned about Nicholas Barclay, he dyed his hair blond, gave himself the same tiny, distinguishing tattoos that were described on the missing child and concocted a credible kidnapping story, describing how he'd been sold into an international child sex ring, where he was tortured, forced to endure experimentation that changed his eye color and not allowed to speak English. The fact that he was a brown-eyed French-Algerian impersonating a blue-eyed American didn't seem to deter the Barclay family, Child Protective Services, the U.S. Embassy staff in Madrid, the news media and the F.B.I.
Directed by Bart Layton, it's a suspenseful docudrama, featuring dramatized re-enactments, that's based on a 2008 "New Yorker" article by David Grann. Layton was intrigued by contradictory recollections and insinuating, inconsistent reports by various members of the Barclay family, who welcomed manipulative Bourdin into their home. The question is -- why were family members so easily fooled, or were they, perhaps, responsible for Nicholas's disappearance -- or worse? That's what intrigues grizzled Texas private detective Charlie Parker, who catches on to the smug, unrepentant pretender, asserting, "If you let a guy like that talk, he'll show himself to be a monster. He's a scary little bastard."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Imposter" is a strange, intriguing 8, searching for that elusive essence known as "the perfect truth."