When you hear that Australian director John Hillcoat, chameleon Guy Pearce and rock God turned screenwriter Nick Cave are putting 'The Proposition’ band back together (with the added ingredients Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain and prohibition era moonshine related conflict) you would be right to think you're in for one of the year's best. And yet it isn’t.
Set in the midst of depression and prohibition America - the Bondurant brothers (Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke) are Franklin County Virginia's kings of moonshine. As the war on illegal liquor heats up a corrupt district attorney sends his attack dog deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) in to shut down their operation.
Hillcoat's beautiful photography is present again here. However, instead of the stylised colour palettes of The Proposition and The Road he lets backwater moonshine business relish in its filth, dirt and sun bleached autumn colours. The changing seasons in the distinctly American woodlands absorb the faded and grubby looking characters and cause the blood and carnage to pop before it drenches and soaks the soil. Cave's script is dark. The violence is exhibited in all its intimate savagery. He's got an affinity for lyrical poetics that contrast with unglamorous, harsh clumsy words from less eloquent characters. The narrative unfortunately places a lot of focus on Shia LaBeouf's Jack - relegating the other great performers to sub plot. His naivety and irresponsibility make him impossible to like and consequently everything surrounding his story detracted and distracted from the more interesting parallel plots and sub plots.
Tom Hardy's presence is unquantifiable. He imbues Forrest with a ferocious intensity that gives you the feeling that he's a heartbeat away from high order violence. His performance consists of his laconic Forrest essentially grunting his way through the film. It's an interesting choice and for the majority of the film it works - in some moments it is cause for some uncontrollable chuckling.
Guy Pearce's perverted snake of an officer slinks through every scene striking and preying on weak and vulnerable targets. You'll love hating the character and willing his comeuppance. Jessica Chastain's former dancer Maggie has escaped from Chicago, and has a rich inferred past that you barely get to scratch the surface of. She’s got grace, vulnerability and she’s a devastatingly beautiful rose in the manure of the moonshine business. Finally Gary Oldman's Chicago mobster Floyd Banner waltzes into Lawless with a tommy gun and a shovel and steals the entire show in three scenes – give this character his own film!
Lawless is by no means a bad film, it’s just a recipe with great ingredients that didn't fully deliver. You find yourself shackled to Jack’s (LaBeouf) story arc and are forced to yearn for the characters and stories that you’re not seeing.
[rating=2] and a half
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Nick Cave (Screenplay)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia Labouf, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke
Lawless is released on the 11th of October 2012 in Australia.