Film review: LawlessBy Andre Langlois
January 23, 2013
THE place to start with John Hillcoat’s third film since his break out of his native Australia is the soundtrack.
As with Hillcoat’s previous two efforts, Nick Cave and regular collaborator Warren Ellis have masterminded the score. This time, discordant and maudlin violin is largely eschewed in favour of rootsy bluegrass with some star turns, most notably from Emmylou Harris, bringing some life to a familiar setting.
It is the 1920s and prohibition has pumped money into a gangster culture that remains to this day.
Although Lawless is set in rural Virginia, the shadow of the mob engulfs proceedings. The Capone-type character here is Floyd Banner – a cameo from Gary Oldman revisiting the violent screen presence that made his name.
We follow the Bondurant brothers, moonshiners who distribute illicit liquor from their gas station.
The ‘invincible’ Forrest sits at the head of the family and is played by Tom Hardy, fast becoming one of the great screen actors of his generation.
The middle brother, Howard (Jason Clarke), is the muscle, but at the centre of the film is Shia LaBeouf (never a good sign) as Jack – the ‘runt of the litter’.
Lacking the savageness or mettle of his brothers, we are presented with Jack as an innocent ready to come of age. And as the family business comes to the attention of special deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), Jack enters into the fray.
As with Hillcott’s The Proposition (2005), Nick Cave penned the script to Lawless. But whereas earlier film’s dusty, dirty, primal stench covered for the thinness of Cave’s dialogue, here a surface gloss reveals all.
It is not that Cave is a bad writer. He may turn out to be one of the great pop lyricists and his debut novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel is a fine slab of American gothic.
Tellingly though, it pales next to Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. McCarthy wrote The Road, which Hillcoat transformed into a most unlikely screen success. No Country For Old Men this is not. While McCarthy would have had Lawless’s Jack confront an amoral void, Cave has him limp through the Hollywood motions. Forrest says: “…the course of your life is changing right in front of you, and you don’t even see it.”
The line is dispatched early and forgotten. What follows is a formulaic and occasionally ultra-violent gangster flick. It is fun and, the criminally underwritten female parts aside, the characters are watchable. But it could have been so much more.
Film rating 3/5
These include the director’s commentary and featurettes, where cast and crew expound the authenticity/excitement/privilege/insight involved in the project. There is a Willie Nelson music video, as well as deleted scenes, which I suppose a dedicated fan might want to splice into the director’s cut. I am not sure why though.
Extras rating 1/5