Duration: 116 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
Similar to Bob Dylan’s song, ‘The Times they are a Changin’, Lawless explores the switching of power between the moonshiners and the law, during the prohibition in the 1930’s. Twisted politicians and crooked cops realised that there was an opportunity to cut themselves a slice of the wealth that was being exploited by the Virginia Bootleggers. What followed was a bloody battle for supremacy.
Based on a historical novel by Matt Bondurant, Lawless follows the trials and tribulations of three Bondurant brothers, Jack (Shia LaBeouf – the timid one), Forrest (Tom Hardy – the smart one) and Howard (Jason Clarke – the violent one). They have it rather easy. They are the leading bootlegging organisation in their area with the local law enforcement happy to turn a blind eye for a couple of bottles of their finest. With their business expanding they hire a reformed Chicago hooker called Maggie (the ever reliable Jessica Chastain) as a helping hand in keeping their ranch in order. However Maggie is not the only visitor from the big city. Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pierce) has arrived and takes no time in making his intentions clear. He wants to run things his way and is willing to use any extreme methods to deliver this message. Many of the bootleggers succumb to the pressure but Forrest digs his heals in. He explains, ‘I’m a Bondurant. We don’t lay down for nobody’. When the people they have known for years start to die, the brothers take a stand with an all or nothing principle.
Hillcoat has certainly gone for an epic approach with his visceral and gritty drama. Yet for all the impressive performances, score and cinematography, there seems to be something missing? Whether it is the screenplay by Nick Cave that is the problem is debatable, but for all the stylish set pieces and acts of brutality there is nothing truly memorable about this yarn. A neck cutting sequence will linger longer in the memory than any clever piece of dialogue from the cast.
Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain certainly shine in their respective roles. Hardy in particular is hilarious and terrifying as the mumbling and seemingly indestructible leader of the pack. Chastain is an actress that seems to make the best of any part that she is given. She has very little screen time in Lawless but has a beguiling presence. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Guy Pierce’s snivelling, pantomime villain. From the moment he introduces himself to Forrest you expect booing and hissing echoing through the theatre. With a haircut that would make Javier Bardem’s villain in No Country for Old Men blush and shaved eyebrows, Pierce looks odd rather than sinister. Another misguided decision was to include Gary Oldman’s Chicago mobster into the proceedings. Most of you will have seen the trailer where he peppers a car with a machine gun. If you include this with a brief shovel attack then you have all that he has to contribute in his criminally short cameo.
The final and inevitable confrontation between the gangs and the law is stylish and well shot. However the most frustrating aspect of Lawless is that it could have been a great film rather than just a good one.