Pete Hammond

It took just four days into the 65th Cannes Film Festival but The Weinstein Company officially took over Saturday scoring both of the key night’s premiere slots at the Grand Theatre Lumiere in the Official Selection and both from Australian directors. With their August 29th release, Lawless getting the 7PM spot, Harvey Weinstein had to immediately turn around and walk back up the red-carpeted stairs for the 10PM screening of his latest pickup, Wayne Blair’s out-of-competition aboriginal soul musical, The Sapphires. Has any other other distributor ever scored this kind of double feature on the same night in Cannes? Doubtful. But with two movies how do you juggle the obligatory after-party scene? In this case, split them up. Lawless celebrated its Cannes debut partying after its screening Saturday, while Sapphires is having official press screenings plus a special showing at the Olympia theatre followed by a party at J.W. Marriott on the Croisette Sunday night. I’ll catch that one then, but I started the day off with Lawless at the 8:30AM press screening this morning and what a bloody, violent, but undeniably entertaining way to start my day than with this testosterone-driven, blood-soaked gangster flick set in prohibition-era Virginia and focusing on the turf wars in bootleger country. One of five American films in competition, its key cast showed on the red carpet (and earlier met with the press) including Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska along with director John Hillcoat and writer-musician Nick Cave. Gary Oldman also co-stars but he skipped the trip to Cannes. A true genre movie, gritty, atmospheric and action-filled with a well-matched ensemble cast, it’s based on the true-life story of the bootlegging Bondurant brothers and was adapted by Cave from family relation Matt Bondurant in his book, The Wettest County In The World. Subtlety is not the name of the game in this one but it could be an early Fall breakout for the Weinsteins if people are sick of superhereos and Battleships and Batmans by that point and looking for a little historical tale of brotherly love to go with the need for more action. Cave, who also collaborated on the music and has worked with Hillcoat previously on movies like the Australian western The Proposition, says Bondurant was not involved at all in his writing process but that it was a dream to write. “I took the flavor of the book and mixed a classical love story and excessive violence. That combination titillates me,” he said. LaBeouf echoed the importance of the over-the-top violence saying it was appropriately “messy, dirty and realistic”.

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Hillcoat did not mince words about the state of Hollywood moviemaking in talking about why the Australian director has now made his second American-set film in a row (after The Road). “I have always thought of film as stories for the world. I am interested in America, Australia, everywhere but it is pretty tough now. My films all have character and drama and those are two words you cannot use in the United States at this time,” he said while praising the kind of work being done for television and hoping that kind of quality intelligent adult entertainment will trickle back to movies someday. He said Bonnie And Clyde (1967) is probably the closest cinematic inspiration for Lawless but said the opportunity to get into Appalachian history actually was key. “We wanted to get under the skin of that world.” He also pointed out parallels in the story to today’s drug cartel wars that are as out of control as the prohibition wars depicted here.

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Unlike most films in the competition so far this one is the least female-centric but Chastain certainly has her moments. She has had quite a remarkable run the first two years of her Cannes experiences. Last year she broke through with Palme d’Or winner The Tree Of Life and Critics Week winner Take Shelter. This week she has been back with two more official entries, the other being Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. “It is amazing to be back at Cannes. This film festival was my introduction to the industry and to be back again with two films is great. But I can’t imagine I will be back here every year with two more films”.

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Pearce seemed to be channeling some of the great gangster roles of the ’30s, particularly the feisty James Cagney parts of the period and he steals the show, swinging for the fences with the ultimate bad-guy role. His part has been considerably fleshed out from the book. “I wanted to create someone who was extremely creepy and memorable,” he said.

As for Hardy who plays the oldest brother, Forrest, he will also be seen this summer as the villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. In this role he is somewhat reminiscent of a young Brando and in fact was asked if Brando was an influence in the way he played it. “I have to confess something. I haven’t seen The Godfather or On The Waterfront or A Streetcar Named Desire but I have seen photos of Brando and I take that as a big compliment,” he said stunning Cannes cinefiles with his revelation. Time to update that Netflix Queue, Tom.

Related: Can Cannes Make A Major Mark On The Oscar Race Two Years In A Row?

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