REVIEW : “The Revenant”

REVENANT POSTER

The last two years have been pretty kind to Alejandro González Iñárritu. 2014 saw the release of “Birdman”, his showy, indulgent black comedy/drama that caught fire during awards season eventually earning him Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Now we get 2015’s “The Revenant”, a dark frontier western that once again finds Iñárritu at the heart of the Oscar conversation.

Iñárritu’s films require a unique taste. They often wallow in pessimism, anguish, and despair. He often gives us miserable characters with little to no emotional complexities. And to varying degrees, each of his films carry their own pretentious self-awareness. But at the same time Iñárritu deserves to be called a visionary. While it could be said Iñárritu has no sense of modulation and he sometimes milks a technique dry, he does put a ton into his narrative structures and visual presentations.

REV1

“The Revenant” is undeniably Iñárritu. Modulation is as hard to find as mercy and hope across his cold, bloody, and unforgiving landscape. The story overextends itself while the characters and audience are incessantly battered by the director’s almost sadistic infatuation with suffering. Doesn’t sound too good, right? Here’s the catch, it’s actually quite good. None of those things keep “The Revenant” from being an exhilarating experience. In fact, in a bizarre and twisted way many of Iñárritu’s indulgences fit perfectly with this dark and violent story.

The story was inspired by the true experiences of fur trapper Hugh Glass and loosely based on Michael Punke’s “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” from 2002. The concept saw several casting and directing changes before Iñárritu landed it in 2011. He worked with Mark L. Smith on the script and Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy were brought on board as the stars. Filming began in 2014 and spanned various locations in the United States, Canada, and Argentina.

At its core the story is fairly simple. The setting is 1823 in the unsettled Northwest. A military sponsored trapping expedition under the command of Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) is attacked by a native tribe. Only ten men manage to escape including trapper and guide Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his Pawnee son played by Forrest Goodluck. The situation worsens after Hugh is violently attacked by a grizzly bear. Maimed and helpless, Hugh is buried alive in a shallow grave but not before witnessing the murder of his son by a vile, scurvy fellow trapper played by Tom Hardy.

REV2

The trailers frame the rest of the story as a revenge tale and that’s partially accurate. Eventually Hugh escapes his shallow grave (the word revenant actually refers to the rising of the dead) and sets out to avenge his boy. But the film doesn’t put a heavy stress on that until later. Instead it becomes what I would call a survival procedural as Hugh methodically navigates one harrowing obstacle after another – his broken body, starvation, the freezing cold, hostile natives. The film certainly puts a heavy emphasis on the survival element of his story.

In doing that Iñárritu runs DiCaprio through a torturous gamut of challenging scenes. Leo has said several of the scenes were some of the hardest he has ever done. That’s easy to believe. Iñárritu emphasized authenticity and felt greenscreens  would hurt his vision for the film. That meant Leo trudging through actual deep snow, being swept away in an ice cold river, gnawing on raw fish and buffalo liver. DiCaprio goes all-in and gives an intensely committed performance that relies more on physicality and expression than dialogue. It’s something to behold.

REV3

While on the subject of beholding you can’t speak of “The Revenant” without talking about its stunning presentation. As I mentioned Iñárritu is often obsessed with how his films look, almost to a fault. But here that obsession pays big dividends. The first smart move was bringing in the great Emmanuel Lubezki to shoot the film. Lubezki’s technique is so perfectly calibrated to this frontier world of beauty and violence. The action scenes are ferocious and filmed with a lyrical energy. They are veritable ballets of muskets, hatchets, bows, and blood.

But that is only one aspect of the film’s phenomenal visuals. There is also the way Iñárritu and Lubezki shoot the land. Scene after scene focuses on the astonishing beauty of the territory while also distinguishing it as threatening and untamed. It may be a slow panning shot of sun breaking through a forest’s canopy, a still shot of an ominous but beautiful snow covered mountain, or maybe a tracking shot of an icy, slow moving river. The imagery is stunning. It reminded me of Terrence Malik only colder, harsher, and bleaker. And I’m not sure any camera has ever captured the feeling of cold, wet misery better than here.

REV4

If anyone feels that effect it’s the cast. Moreover if suffering on screen can win you an Oscar Leonardo DiCaprio has it in the bag, and Tom Hardy should at least be in the awards conversation. DiCaprio’s thirst for revenge is painfully earned and Hardy’s cauterized emotions feeds his repugnancy. Both are sturdy anchors for this patient, sweeping frontier epic. Both meld perfectly into Iñárritu’s dark, gloomy, overcast world.

It’s always pretty obvious where “The Revenant” is heading, but it’s that journey from the main story point to the finale that is so captivating. It isn’t an easy film to watch. The images are often shockingly gruesome and Iñárritu’s fascination with sorrow, misery, and loss pummels with one emotional gut-punch after another. But yet there is a seductive allure the kept me glued to every struggle, every conflict, and every encounter. I was overwhelmed by the scenery more times than I can count. But most importantly everything felt rich with meaning and emotion whether it was the ugliness of humanity or the beauty of nature. That’s not an easy thing to convey and Iñárritu deserves a ton of credit for doing it.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

REVIEW: “Child 44”

CHILD POSTER

“There are no murders in Paradise”. This is a phrase repeated several times in the period thriller “Child 44”. The line is a reference to the former Soviet practice of denying the existence of murders and serial killings within their Communist model. In the film we see the propaganda machine clash with a series of brutal child murders in Moscow and surrounding areas. The film is produced by Ridley Scott who was originally in line to direct. Instead the directing duties were handed to Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa.

“Child 44” is adapted from British writer Tom Rob Smith’s 2008 novel which was based on the serial killings of Andrei Chikatilo. The film begins by establishing the system and bureaucracy of the Stalinist Soviet Union in the early 1950s. Tom Hardy plays Leo Demidov, a decorated agent from the Ministry of State Security. His main job is enforcing the rigid laws and capturing anyone the government deems to be traitors. And we see their methods of law enforcement as manipulative, suppressive, and sometimes violent.

CH44_D16-3459.CR2

Then there is Leo’s relationship with his disillusioned wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace). When out with friends they look like the perfect couple, but she clearly shows a disconnect at home stirring up a number of suspicions within Leo. But in the background of the political and personal storylines, a growing number of murdered young boys’ bodies are turning up. The government wants to cover it up. Families are suffering. And eventually Leo finds himself caught in the middle.

I went into “Child 44” expected a murder mystery thriller. It is definitely that, but Richard Price’s screenplay ventures off into a number of different directions. The marital tensions between Leo and Raisa evolves into a deeper sidestory. A layered political drama builds throughout the film. Then there is the hunt for the serial killer. These and a few smaller subplots are interwoven within the fabric of the film resulting in the vision sometimes feeling clouded.

But the film leads us through this haze and unfolds each story angle, bringing them together in a deliberate, slow-burning method that clearly didn’t work for many. I love the tense political drama and its ominous, ever-present threat which bleeds into ever other facet of the film. There is a tension boiling behind every conversation large or small. There is a proactive paranoia within the bureaucracy which leads to some of the film’s more disturbing moments. And the oppressive nature of the politics hangs over the people like a shroud. It is very well done.

CHILD3

The same could be said of the strained and uncomfortable marriage between Leo and Raisa. The edge to their story angle gets sharper as the movie progresses and the film does a fine job of giving them moments to flesh out their relationship. A number of outliers and influences play into their angle taking it into some very interesting directions.

That leads to the central storyline – the murder mystery and the hunt for a savage serial killer. At least it appeared to be the central storyline based on the film’s promotion. Actually this story angle gets less screen time than the others which was disappointing. The urgency grows with each grim and unnerving discovery yet it languishes in the shadow of the other stories. It is intensely intriguing yet strangely handled. I mean even with a running time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, it doesn’t feel like the film gives the murder mystery enough time or attention.

Plenty of criticisms were hurled towards some of the performances and particular casting choices. Gripes about the heavy accents and the decision to use predominately non-Russian actors. Honestly I think the film pulls it off nicely. A strong supporting cast features Rapace, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel, Joel Kinnaman, and a host of others.

Child2

But it is Tom Hardy’s fiercely committed performance that carries the picture. His blanched complexion and weary eyes gel well with his consistently serious and solemn demeanor. In fact I think he may smile once in the entire film and even then the sincerity is in question. Hardy harnesses all of his character’s inner conflicts and various states of mind and presents them all with a robust confidence. Its a great performance.

“Child 44” is considered a bomb. It bombed with critics. It bombed at the box office. But I just can’t go along with the majority of criticisms. Yes, the film is a slow-moving experience. Yes, the film often lacks a clear and specific focus. But never once was I bored by the pacing or lost due to its narrative structure. Clearly the screenplay and direction could have tightened things up a bit, but there is still so much the movie does right. It ends up being a unique and compelling procedural that I found satisfying even in its messiness. I’m happy to go against the grain with this one.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

REVIEW: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

MAX POSTER

Has it really been 30 years since Mel Gibson last drove across George Miller’s dystopian desert wasteland in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”? My how time flies. Between 1979 and 1985 visionary filmmaker Miller gave us three films: the intriguing but lethargic “Mad Max”, the fabulous cult classic “The Road Warrior”, and the fun but commercial “Beyond Thunderdome”. While the second film was the real standout, I have always had a natural soft spot for the entire franchise. So of course I would be enthusiastic when it was announced that a fourth installment was finally seeing the light of day.

For years Miller has toyed with the idea of bringing Max back to the big screen but there were always obstacles that hindered him. Mel Gibson was set to reprise his role and at several points the project seemed good to go. Several years have passed, Tom Hardy replaces the aged Gibson, and “Fury Road” is a reality. What’s truly amazing is that this is the wildest, craziest, and most visually arresting installment yet and all from the mind of its now 70-year old creator.

MAX1

The first three films had a combined budget of less than $20 million. For “Fury Road” Miller was given $150 million and you will instantly see the benefits. The visuals are an essential component to this film. This is an unapologetic, full-throttle thrill ride, and a textbook lesson on how to make an action movie. Make no mistake, the action in “Fury Road”  is intense and relentless. The vehicular carnage is unlike anything most people have seen before. The story is a bit lightweight and clearly intended to serve the plot’s madness. This all may be enough to scare away some people. For me, it was the film’s unflinching, fuel-injected focus that made it the best movie experience I’ve had this year so far.

The film opens with a gruff Hardy saying “My name is Max. My world is fire and blood”. His world is an energy-starved, post-apocalyptic desert wasteland where he is haunted by his past and driven only by survival. Within the first few minutes, the nomadic Max is captured by the army of a savage and wickedly grotesque tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Max’s capture leads him to cross paths with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who attempts to smuggle Joe’s five enslaved childbearing wives to safety. This invokes the wrath of the maniacal leader who brings his entire army after them. And guess what, Max is caught right in the middle.

I can’t think of a more fitting actor to take on the role of Mad Max than Tom Hardy. His dialogue is sparse and he mainly tells his story through grunts, expressions, and outright physicality. And he does it all to sheer perfection. It’s a very unorthodox role. He’s not asked to say much and he spends a good third of the movie with his face partially obscured by a metal contraption. But he masterfully sells us this tough, surly, and untrusting Max character. But the real surprise was watching Charlize Theron match his toughness punch for punch and bullet for bullet. She is so good here.

MAX2

But of course the true star and the main attraction is George Miller and his insanely energetic action and presentation. “Fury Road” is a visual delight – a movie filled with “wow” moments, unbelievable stunts, and mind-blowing vehicle action sequences. Miller shoots his action with a chaotic precision and cinematic fluidity. Many modern action directors should take notes. But equally impressive are the stunning amount of practical effects used. When mixed with the top-notch CGI, it makes this one amazing looking film. And going along with the stellar visuals is Junkie XL’s vibrant and invigorating score.

Some of us had given up on Mad Max ever returning to the big screen. After 30 years it was a reasonable conclusion. But after seeing “Fury Road” I can boldly say it was worth the wait. George Miller has given us an installment that stands right there with (and probably an inch or two above) his phenomenal “The Road Warrior”. This is pure action cinema – a beautiful mixture of old-school style and modern movie technology. And after this taste of Miller’s vision, I can only hope he has more Mad Max movies plan for the future.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

REVIEW: “This Means War”

WAR POSTER

“This Means War” is a shining example of how you can put together a good, talented cast and still end up with totally crappy movie. Hollywood is filled with wonderful actresses and actors who blow us away with their acting chops. But I’m a firm believer that you’re only as good as your material. Of course we’ve seen good actors that actually rise above the material but great films are never made on performances alone. Well, I don’t care how good the cast is, there is no actor or actress, living or dead, who could save this monstrosity of a movie.

I love Tom Hardy. He’s one of my favorite actors and he has really made a name for himself over the past few years. I’m also a fan of Reese Witherspoon, an actress who is better than some of her role choices. Why these two, especially Hardy, would sign on for this project is beyond me. McG directs this action/romantic comedy that may not be as awful as his “Charlie’s Angels” films but it’s not far off. It’s said that the script had been shopped around for over ten years and had been turned down by a number of actors during that time. That should have been a bad sign but 20th Century Fox went ahead and okayed this $65 million mess. So we have wasted talent and wasted money. Wonderful.

WAR1

The story itself is pretty corny. FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are two CIA field agents who are also best of friends. By sheer circumstance the two find out they’re dating the same woman, a beautiful product tester named Lauren (Witherspoon). They make a gentleman’s agreement to let the best man win while never telling Lauren that they know each other. Predictably their feelings for her grow and their friendly competition evolves into a full blown war. They use everything at their disposal including their CIA technology to win the girl’s heart while sabotaging the other’s dates. So the question becomes who will come out on top and will their friendship remained intact. Yawn!

I think somewhere in here lies a decent idea for a movie. Unfortunately things get so preposterous to the point of being hard to watch. Sitting through Hardy, Witherspoon, and Pine struggling to make vapid, dopey, and unfunny material enjoyable is as entertaining as getting a root canal. There isn’t a single funny scene nor is there a single funny line. And in its struggle to get a laugh it’s forced to resort to cheap antics such as crotch shots and animal slapstick. And it doesn’t help that the movie strays so far from reality that it’s impossible to buy into any of the characters or romances.

WAR2

There are also several other things that for me resulted in one facepalm after another. First, this may be the most idiotic depiction of the Central Intelligence Agency I have ever seen. Tuck and FDR abuse the system for their benefit with seemingly no obstacles or safeguards to stop them. Angela Bassett (in a complete throwaway role) plays their boss but she certainly doesn’t do enough to even notice their open insubordination. We also get a totally uninteresting action plot about an underdeveloped and frankly pointless crime boss (Til Schweiger) who wants revenge on our bosom buddies for killing his thuggish brother. It’s unnecessary and does more to show how poorly conceived the story is.

I could go on. I could mention Lauren’s annoying best fiend Trish (Chelsea Handler) – a stupid and contrived character devoid of any moral value. I could go into more detail about the film’s utter lack of identity. But frankly, I’m just tired of talking about it. “This Means War” pretty much ends up being a disaster. The cast should be given credit for trying to make this work but they should also be questioned as to why they even jumped onboard with this thing. The movie never comes close to hitting the action, romance, and comedy targets it aims for so the audience is left twiddling our thumbs, checking our watches, and waiting for the end. That’s not exactly my idea of enjoying a movie!

VERDICT – 1.5 STARS

REVIEW: “Inception”

Inception Poster

After the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” back in 2010, I wrote a review on my earlier blog site praising the film. After several more viewings, I would continue to applaud this production and it was easily my favorite film of that year. But as excited as I was over “Inception”, I still don’t think my previous review did justice to what has become one of my favorite movies of all time. Yes, I said of all time! I still find “Inception” to be one of the most original and most ambitious movies I’ve ever seen. But ambition doesn’t always equal a great movie. “Inception” not only aims high but it succeeds in creating a brilliant and unique picture that’s unlike anything I’ve seen.

It’s hard to pigeonhole “Inception”. It’s a heist film, a tragic romance, science-fiction, and an action film. But the best thing is it uses all of these ingredients flawlessly. The bulk of its success can be traced right back to Nolan. For my money Christopher Nolan is one of our greatest working directors. He wrote , co-produced, and directed this film and I truly believe he’s one of the only visionary filmmakers who could have pulled this off. It took him almost ten years to write and rewrite the script and it took the huge success of “The Dark Knight” to secure the big budget needed to make “Inception”. But you sure can’t argue with the results of the finished product. “Inception” ended its box office run making over $825 million worldwide.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor Nolan had wanted to work with for some time. He plays “Dom” Cobb, a dream thief for lack of a better title. He, along with his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are paid to infiltrate the subconsciouses of their targets via their dreams and steal information. When the dream extraction from a wealthy Japanese businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, Cobb and Arthur find out they were being tested. Instead of extracting information, Saito wants the them to attempt inception on a business rival of his. The idea of inception is that instead of stealing information you plant it in the target’s subconscious while they’re dreaming. There are questions as to whether inception is even possible but Cobb is enticed to take the job when Saito promises to use his influence to clear Cobb’s name of a mysterious murder charge that has kept him out of the United States and separated from his two children.

?????????????????????

To do the job Cobb needs a top-notch team of experts. Eames (Tom Hardy) is basically a forger or probably better described as an impersonator. Once inside a dream he has the ability to take on the identity of anyone. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect. She is able to construct mental labyrinths inside the dreamers subconscious. This is essential if the team is going to know their way around the dream. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is basically the team’s pharmacist. He’s the one who controls the sleep via his numerous concoctions. Saito also insists on going and keeping an eye on his “investment”. Nolan takes us through the formation of the team, bits of their training, and of course their attempt at inception. As the story moves forward Nolan plays with our minds as he begins placing dreams within dreams and he causes his audience to pay close attention as their well planned heist encounters more and more complications.

One thing I’ve always loved about a Christopher Nolan film is his ability to put to gather the perfect cast. This may be his best yet. DiCaprio has been a critic’s darling with several of his performances, but I think this is one of his very best. Cobb knows his business but he’s a tortured man with loads of emotional baggage. Leo handles all of this perfectly. I also loved Tom Hardy here and he steals nearly every scene he’s in. Eames is a confident wisecracker and some of his best scenes are when he’s giving Arthur a hard time. Speaking of Arthur, Gordon-Levitt gives another strong performance and he has one particular action sequence that’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. And then there’s Ellen Page who I liked as Ariadne. Her character is new to the dream scene and she brings a needed sense of caution and reality to the mission.

But there are some other great performances that are important to the story and worth mentioned. One of my favorites was Marion Cotillard as Mal. She has a special bond with Cobb and repeatedly appears within the dreams potentially compromising the mission. Cotillard’s performance is multi-layered and fascinating. Michael Caine, a Nolan favorite, is very good as Cobb’s father-in-law and caregiver of his children. Cillian Murphy plays the team’s central target for inception and he too is a great fit for his role. It was also great to see Tom Berenger given a nice role to work with and the great Peter Postlethwaite in what would be his last performance before his death due to pancreatic cancer. All of these performers are sharply in tune with the material and the cast serves as just one of the movie’s many high points.

?????????????????????

Nolan is also a visual filmmaker and there is some incredibly eye candy in “Inception”. The movie was filmed in locations all over the world including Tokyo, Morocco, Paris, and Alberta. Each of these places have their own separate and distinct look and feel to them within the movie whether they take place in reality or in a dream. This was an intentional move by Nolan who wanted to place his film in the contemporary world while also playing with our perceptions of what is real and what’s not. And of course since we’re talking about dreams, Nolan has a spectacular and diverse visual sandbox to play in. He wows us with several amazing special effects sequences that include rotating hotel rooms, trains barreling down big city boulevards, and a shootout at a fortified arctic base. “Inception” hits you with one spectacular set piece after another and all of this gels nicely with the movie’s deep and layered story.

“Inception”isn’t a movie with a straightforward by-the-books narrative. It’s a film that requires you to pay attention and I like that. I’ve talked with people who didn’t care for the movie because of its complexities and I can’t help but be puzzled. So many movies are simple and formulaic genre films that never challenge their audiences in any way. For me it’s refreshing to have something completely original and fresh and I appreciate how the film doesn’t dumb things down for the audience. I’m also amazed at just how well this complex story unwraps. Nolan constantly throws new kinks into his story to the point where I questioned whether he could bring it all together. But like a skilled and crafty pro he pulls everything in during the last 20 minutes, right up to the beautiful final shot. And that final scene, well it gets a little misty for me every single time.

For me everything in “Inception” works. The special effects, the action sequences, Nolan’s phenomenal script, the incredible cast, Hans Zimmer’s pulse pounding score. This is why I go to the movies. There’s nothing conventional about “Inception” and there’s no way to watch it and not appreciate its craftsmanship. That said be prepared to think. The story is a bit of a challenge but that’s just another joy I get from watching it. I understand it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it gives me everything I want in a motion picture experience. For me this is a modern cinematic masterpiece.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

“LAWLESS” – 4 STARS

Just seeing the list of great names attached to “Lawless” easily made it one of my most anticipated films of 2012. I’m a huge fan of Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, and Gary Oldman. The thoughts of them in a Prohibition-era action flick had me giddy with excitement. But I also had one serious concern about the movie and that was Shia LaBeouf in the lead role. I’ve never been impressed with his acting and I couldn’t help but wonder if he could hold his own in the company of such great talent. While LaBeouf was certainly better than I expected, he was swallowed up by some really strong performances around him. But thankfully that wasn’t enough to keep “Lawless” from being a highly entertaining piece of American pulp.

Australian John Hillcoat, also known for “The Road” and “The Proposition”, directs the film with fellow Aussie Nick Cave handling the screenplay. Their story is set in the hills of Franklin County, Virginia and follows the Bondurant boys – three brothers who make their living bootlegging moonshine during the Prohibition years. Forrest (Hardy) is the tough, hard-nosed leader of the bunch. Howard (Jason Clarke) works alongside Forrest. Then there’s Jack (LaBeouf) who at one time is described as “the runt of the litter”. The brothers get by alright with their own system of running moonshine, at least until a vicious Special Agent Rakes (Pearce) is sent in to clean up the hills. Rakes immediately clashes with Forrest and before long the hills erupt into violence.

Of the brothers’ stories, its Forrest’s that’s considerably more entertaining even though Jack’s takes up more of the movie. Forrest is a tough-as-nails brute but he also knows how to handle their business. Hardy chews up every scene he’s in with his grunts and mutterings as well as his intimidating stares and low-key dialogue. He’s also not afraid to use brutality with his brass knuckles or razors. But even he is tamed a bit by Maggie (Chastain), a former dancer who moves to the community to escape the troubles of the big city. Boy did she pick the wrong place. I enjoyed the romance that developed between the two. Chastain gives a great performance and she matches Hardy scene for scene and line for line.

The same can’t be said for LaBeouf and his Jack character. As I alluded to, LaBeouf is better than I expected and, to be fair, he’s at times quite good. But he just can’t hold his own especially when alongside Hardy. He is helped by the story which doesn’t build his toughness beyond the bounds of believability. It fact it’s his weakness and desire to prove himself to his brothers that turns out to be the most compelling part of his character. He’s attracted to a local minister’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska) and the two eventually fall for each other. But overall their romance feels inconsequential and adds little to the story. On the other hand, I did enjoy his scenes with his friend Cricket (wonderfully played by Dane DeHaan of “Chronicle” from earlier this year). And he also encounters a powerful mobster named Floyd Banner played by Gary Oldman. Oldman is really good even though he’s given almost nothing to do.

But the biggest delight is Guy Pearce. He’s sensational as the creepy and psychotic special agent who abuses his power and who will stop at nothing to take out those who cross him. Pearce’s high hairline with its accentuated part down the middle, shaved eye brows, and prim and proper wardrobe gives him a distinct eccentric look. But it’s also Pearce’s mannerisms, unhinged chuckles, and the way he carries himself the gives the character a sinister presence. He has some of the film’s best scenes, none better than the tension-filled first meeting between Rakes and Forrest. Pearce is simply fantastic and this is an Oscar worthy supporting performance.

Another huge plus for “Lawless” is the incredible production design. The movie features such a realistic and atmospheric recreation of the hilly, poverty-stricken, 1930’s moonshine territory. Every scene is soaked with period details and the lush, vibrant locations make everything feel authentic. Hillcoat’s unfiltered Franklin County is rusty, dirty, and dangerous. From the opening credits I found myself completely drawn in by the period look. The wardrobes, the automobiles, the rundown shacks – everything contributes to the pitch-perfect aesthetic.

“Lawless” is a tough, bloody, and violent action picture that’s very honest in what it’s trying to be. The story is simple and nothing will catch you by surprise. But it’s also compelling and the characters are easy to invest in. The movie does hit a little lull in the middle and we actually get a skip ahead montage to set up the simply ok ending. But the film still packs plenty of pop and there are some tremendous performances that will stick with you, particularly from Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce who may have given us the best villain in the movies this year. “Lawless” is both poetic and visceral and even though it just misses being a real classic, it’s still a true Southern Gothic treat.