‘For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?’ The answer is self-evident, but it’s one that remains steadfastly ignored by most of our species. When its truth is realised it is, more often than not, too late to do anything about it – Robert Miller (Richard Gere) could certainly vouch for that. He is a suave, revered Wall Street tycoon – private jet, chauffeur-driven limos and at least two of everything anybody might want to own. Turning sixty, he is ideally married to Ellen (Susan Sarandon), a Madison Avenue fundraising socialite, while his high-achieving daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), is braining it at his brokerage house. And in Julie (Laetitia Casta), the young French artist whom he has been backing, he also has a nice little piece of crumpet on the side. But there are clouds gathering… a huge deal in which his money dealings have been unethical, even illegal (arbitrage is the financial term relating to this), threatens to go pear-shaped, putting him under immense stress. Driving Julie out of town one night after a gallery opening, he crashes the car and Julie is killed; think – Mary Jo Kopechne. Miller makes a midnight call to Jimmy (Nate Parker), the coloured son of a former business associate, and asks that he come out and collect him. As he calculatedly covers his tracks, Miller inevitably becomes more entangled in his web of deceit as Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) closes in. Can we justifiably hope that everything will not blow up in his face? Morally, Miller’s actions are inexcusable, but his flawed humanity is all too common and only the purest among us would cast the first stone. Gere, without attempting to win our sympathy, is superb as an egotist incapable of overcoming his own immediate self-interest. Vice-like in its old-school adherence to cause and effect, consistent characterisation and not letting the cat out of the bag, this is one of the year’s best.
Nick Cave has always come across to me as a bit of a poser, an artist who too ardently believes his own PR and whose talent lies in an intuitive stroking of the Zeitgeist’s nihilistic narcissism. I found nothing to alter this perception in his laborious screenplay for this nasty piece of voguish brutalism. The Bondurant brothers – patriarchal Forrest (Tom Hardy), Jack the youngest (Shia La Beouf) and Howard (Jason Clarke) – are brewers of moonshine in Franklin County, Virginia, during the era of Prohibition. They bring to mind a backwoods Vito, Michael and Sonny Corleone, not that this movie is in the same universe as Coppola’s masterpiece. The compliant local coppers have been bought off, but the boys’ business comes under threat when the Mob, in the form of Tommy-gun toting Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), muscles in on their turf. Neighbouring rubes fall into line, but the Bondurants stubbornly reject the offer that can’t be refused, and their situation is made worse with the arrival from Chicago of Rakes (Guy Pearce), a psychopathic deputy hell-bent on eradicating the stills. Australian director John Hillcoat, with cinematographer Benoît Delhomme (the pair also collaborated on Cave’s equally grubby The Proposition), enhances an ugly, disseminated story with a rich creation of time and place – the god-fearin’ scene in the church is a highlight, even if it is marred by Jack’s not-credible behaviour. Atmospherics are strongly evocative, if frequently over dependent on musical accompaniment (the Bootleggers’ take on White Light, White Heat is fab), while performances generally are steeply mannered – Hardy grunts throughout, Pearce minces murderously. Ultimately, if the intention was to convey in the Bondurants a sort of unlettered nobility (and I suspect it was), then it failed miserably with this viewer. If you’ve had it up to here with the knuckle-dragging immaturity and boorish posturing of the gangster genre – whether the yobs are dressed in Armani linen or hillbilly denim – you will be disappointed to find that this is just more of the same puerile glorification of thuggery.