May 21 (Bloomberg) -- In “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” Shia LaBeouf played a trader hankering for cash.
“Lawless,” which premiered at the weekend at the Cannes Film Festival, casts him as the no-less-greedy Jack -- the youngest of three bootlegging brothers in Prohibition-era Virginia who fend off rivals and crooked law enforcers.
A coming-of-age tale directed by John Hillcoat and scripted by Nick Cave, “Lawless” plots Jake’s mutation to moonshine mogul from frightened farmboy, as he bypasses his knucklehead brothers to market the booze. The Western-cum-gangster movie features shootouts, stabbings and even an emasculation.
In Cannes for the premiere, bearded and baby-faced LaBeouf, 25, said he got no training for the fight scenes.
“It’s messy, it’s dirty and it’s realistic,” he said of the improvised scuffles. “It’s not rehearsed like a ballet.”
Funnily enough, the violence helps turn this initially predictable true story into a compelling drama. So does the acting. LaBeouf delivers his best performance yet; the quivering cub turns cocky, buying cashmere coats and driving his girl around in a jalopy.
Tom Hardy is another standout as his gruff brother Forrest -- afraid of no man, yet terrified to court a woman. Jessica Chastain (the talented star of “The Tree of Life”) plays the ex-dancer who catches Forrest’s eye. Only Guy Pearce, the scary Special Deputy Charlie Rakes, overacts in his role as the dandy official on the take. Rating: ***.
‘Rust and Bone’
Marion Cotillard, who shot to fame as Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose” (2007), proves she’s no one-hit wonder with “Rust and Bone.”
Directed by Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”), it’s about a killer-whale trainer (Cotillard) whose legs are amputated after an accident at the film’s start, and a big-hearted bouncer-boxer (the impressive Matthias Schoenaerts) she meets shortly before.
First-rate acting can’t stop “Rust and Bone” from tipping into melodrama, mostly because of a clumsy script. “I won’t need these,” says the amputee as she gives away her shoes. The plot has so many jolts and twists that it feels like a storyboard. No surprise there: It’s actually a mash-up of short stories by Craig Davidson.
On the plus side, Audiard delivers searing shots that blur the boundaries between animal and human. Outdoor boxing matches are filmed like cockfights. Sex is quick and feral. Boxer Ali is always a twitch or two away from getting violent, even with his five-year-old son.
The prettiest scenes involve the killer whales. They do magnificent slow-motion forward flips -- accompanied by crashing sound effects -- and engage in a brief ballet of water movements. Too bad Audiard didn’t give us more whale shots and fewer doses of stark social realism. Rating: **1/2.
If Italy’s courts had allowed it, a Neapolitan jailbird would have walked up the Cannes red carpet.
Aniello Arena -- a prisoner for close to two decades, and part of a theatre troupe -- is the lead actor in “Reality.” It’s about a Naples fishmonger who tries out for Italy’s version of the “Big Brother” TV show and gets hooked on its intoxicating promise of fame and fortune.
Based on a true story, “Reality” is a tragicomic fable on the hopes placed by working-class families in television. Luciano the fishmonger interrupts a life of seafood and petty scams to join legions of coiffed, numbered and surgically boosted Big Brother wannabes. The audition alone makes him a local hero.
Director Matteo Garrone -- whose 2008 organized-crime movie “Gomorrah” was a stunner -- delivers a skillful blend of Greek tragedy and Fellini-esque farce. His camera lovingly scans Naples in all its decadent splendor.
Garrone locates the Big Brother house in Federico Fellini’s favorite Cinecitta studios, and peoples the movie with the kind of full-figured women the late master adored. TV personalities are portrayed as modern-day saints, pawed by the faithful, and worshiped from below as they soar in their private helicopters.
Where “Reality” disappoints is in its heavy handling of morality. Luciano is racked with guilt in the film’s latter half, and Garrone spends too many scenes showing it.
Luckily, actor-convict Arena brings unusual authenticity and, well, reality to the role. If he wins the best-actor trophy at Cannes, it would definitely be a first. Rating: ***1/2.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include an interview by Manuela Hoelterhoff, Scott Reyburn on auctions, Robert Heller on music and John Mariani on wine.
To contact the reporter on the story: Farah Nayeri in Cannes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.