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Setting plays a key role in two new releases on the Blu-ray and DVD market this week. From moonshiners in Virginia during Prohibition to a Louisiana bayou community called “the bathtub,” here’s two new reviews.
Lawless is based on the true story of three brothers who ran a bootlegging ring during Prohibition but still may have been the most honest men in the county. Shia LaBeouf is the runt of the litter, always trying to prove his worth, while tough older brother Tom Hardy may be the strongest guy in the room but certainly not the most ambitious.
Lawless features a unique villain, the dandy Special Deputy played to the hilt by Guy Pearce, and several great supporting actors like Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain, but none of them are able to rise above what is pretty standard crime movie material with nothing really new added to the mix. This movie is especially disappointing given that its another collaboration from director John Hillcoat and writer/composer Nick Cave, following the harrowing movies The Roadand The Proposition.
There’s a lot of informative extras, including an audio commentary with Hillcoat and author Matt Bondurant, who wrote the book The Wettest County in the World, on which the movie is based, but it just made me wish that the movie itself had been more compelling. Instead, Lawless hits the coming-of-age notes, the basic revenge story notes, and the violent notes with a startling complacency. Maybe if Hardy’s character were the main one and the POV was all filtered through him instead of LaBeouf, it might have worked better. After all, it was the eldest brother who truly believed he was invincible, and those are some pretty rare shoes to be in.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Beasts of the Southern Wild, however, is so bold it sometimes feels as if it’s being beamed in from another planet. The movie’s six-year-old lead actress Quvenzhané Wallis is generating well-deserved Oscar buzz for playing Hushpuppy, a young girl who loses her home to a hurricane and has a sick father who can barely take care of her.
The movie is shot from Hushpuppy’s point of view, so everything has a magical, dream-like quality to it. You’ve seen tales of courage before, but never one told with such an original, focused eye on the person telling it. By the time Beasts of the Southern Wild is over, you may be hypnotized by its strange beauty and individualism, even as you feel the tragic depth of Hushpuppy’s situation.
Since the Blu-ray doesn’t have a director’s commentary track from Benh Zeitlen, you’ll have to make do with the excellent 22-minute The Making of Beasts of the Southern Wild, some deleted scenes and auditions, plus Zeitlen’s 2008 short film Glory at Sea, which the full-length feature was based on.