Thursday, 6 September 2012

Film Review: Lawless (2012)

Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Nick Cave
Stars: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman

Lawless is a film which tries very hard to be an epic but has very little substance to justify its existence on our cinema screens. What may have made for an interesting book and true story (the film is based on Matt Bondurant’s book of his grandfather’s life) does not make for an entertaining two hour film.

The main culprit is clearly Nick Cave and his meandering and disengaging screenplay; he demonstrates an amateurish grasp on how to negate multiple leads characters, some of which are not needed at all. In doing so his screenplay wastes the talents of Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska who end up with very little to do except just fill the ‘woman’ role so needed (apparently) in these macho films and they never appear more than just stock characters. Charlie Rakes, the film’s villain, starts off as a believable and menacing character, played brilliantly by Guy Pearce, but as the film drags on and with nothing organic happening to anyone involved, Rakes turns into a complete pantomime psycho whose actions are simply too sadistic and motiveless to be taken seriously.

The film’s two protagonists are Jack and Forrest Bondurant played very well with the material they have by Shia LeBeouf and Tom Hardy and thanks only to their acting is the film saved from utter failure. Both are believable as the bootlegging brothers with LeBeouf as the quiet one who must learn to toughen up, and Hardy as the similarly quiet, brooding, bulky leader of the pack. A lot of what the actors say in the opening fifteen minutes is somewhat inaudible and the accents and mumbling take a while to get used to, but I was glad to see the cast approach the screenplay with such gusto and bring a greatly needed spark to the screen.

In keeping with the poor story is the real key to Lawless’s shortcomings. It tries to be many things; crime story, family drama, romantic drama, action picture, but it never finds its way with anything it tries to do. It is neither thrilling, compelling, or gripping enough to make you care when someone is chased, threatened, or killed – and there is a lot of killing in this film. Moreover, the screenplay is overly violent for its own good; I’m all for stabbings, shootings, and fist fights when the story requires it, but it is not entertaining when that’s all that ever happens. The end shootout (which really shouldn’t be a spoiler if you’re watching a 1930’s inspired film called Lawless) is a complete an utter sham, with characters turning up whom you have either never seen before or, worse, simply do not have anything invested in.

John Hillcoat, who directed one of 2009’s best films in The Road, does a fair job of keeping the story alive by capturing the essence of 1930’s Virginia without copying other films or directors (even though some Michael Mann does creep in with some of the close up work) and the film is always watchable from a purely aesthetic point of view. Hillcoat should keep clear of Nick Cave’s scripts if he is to ever to repeat the brilliance he showed in The Road.

Stop Thinking For Yourself Verdict: Lawless is a project which Hillcoat had been attached to for a number of years but had been stuck in development, and once had Ryan Gosling and Scarlett Johansson attached. I can imagine that the script was changed many times over those years to make the film work and find a distributor, and at one stage it may have been something worth making. It’s a shame that what we finally got was nothing more than all gloss and very little substance and the cast, director, and most of all, audience, deserve much more than that. I fear some people will praise this film because 2012’s releases have been mostly forgettable to date, but regardless of what year it is a poor film is a poor film.


  1. With an awesome cast, and some electrifying moments of blood and action, Lawless has a lot going for it being the last big blockbuster of the summer, even if it isn’t all that fast-paced as some people may think. Good review.

  2. Thanks for the continued comments to my blog, Dan O!