The differential in movie villainy — between the bad guy we merely root against, and the bad guy whose demise incites spontaneous applause in a movie theater — is exemplified by Charley Rakes, the nasty piece of work at the center of director John Hillcoat’s Lawless.
Opening Wednesday, what Hillcoat called his “country gangster” drama based in the Prohibition-era South features a super-cast of young stars, but it’s the veteran Guy Pearce ( Memento, L.A. Confidential), who, as Rakes, galvanizes the entire movie and worms his way into the spleen of the audience
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Pearce said from the North Carolina set of Iron Man 3, in which he’ll be playing another scoundrel.
In “Lawless,” he comes to the Virginia backwoods prepared to destroy the lucrative moonshine business of the Bondurant brothers ( Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke) and, if necessary, the Bondurant brothers themselves.
Aside: A real-life grandson, Matt Bondurant, wrote The Wettest County in the World, the book from which the movie was adapted.
“He’s an interesting character,” Pearce said. “And obviously, the film is based on a book, but Rakes really is a Nick Cave invention,” he said of the film’s screenwriter and sometime rock star. “The character of Rakes in the book is a local, and it’s a different dynamic and situation. I think Nick and John wanted to create someone who brought in a real outsider’s point of view, not just bringing him literally from the city, but with a real, thorough disdain for how these guys live, and who views them with an absolute judgment. It separates the two worlds.”
“I'm thrilled with the cast we have,” said director Hillcoat, reached in Romania, where he was working on a new film. He gave a subdued Australian laugh. “And I'm very fortunate, but the reason they're all in the film is they weren't as heavily booked as they are now.”