Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Lawless Review

After an aggressive marketing campaign, Lawless hits screens with a rather mixed reception. An adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World, the film is essentially a “biographical” action/drama that saw itself nominated for 2012 Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or. With a star-studded cast consisting of Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy, and with director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) at the helm Lawless showed some initial promise. Yet in reality it’s a film that struggles to build and develop its story, characters and themes in an engaging and memorable methodology.

Set during the Prohibition period of the 1930s, the film follows the Bondurant Brothers; Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), a notorious and brutal family of moonshine bootleggers. However the arrival of Special Agent Charlies Rakes (Guy Pearce) not only puts their illegal operations in trouble, but their lives. Lawless’ main problem is its writing. Nick Cave’s adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s novel lacks substance and depth towards both the film’s characters and the plot. With a story dominated and centred around the three leads, the script fails to establish anything profound about them, their brotherhood or their “war” against Rakes. For the majority of the film, Shia LaBeouf’s character arch takes precedence. Yet even his unoriginal  ascendence from whinny “rookie” to whinny, wannabe macho isn’t a sophistically told or realistically evolved narrative. The introduction of Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska merely serves to further add to some pretty faces to the sagging second act with forgettable romances that fail to develop from Hillcoat’s use of montages. On the whole, apart from the so-called “legend” surrounding Hardy’s character, there’s nothing captivating or engaging with any of the trio or the story, which is a completely no no for a “biographical” tale. 
The sheer talent on offer surprisingly culminates in no actor or actress truly standing out and impressing. Shia LaBeouf puts in his standard delivery in a performance that really requires someone with a lot more screen presence and diversity. Tom Hardy’s rather indistinguishable accent and bashful personality is the most interesting character, yet he suffers from the lacklustre nature of the script. Jason Clarke is forgettable in a role that requires little from him except his fists. Meanwhile Guy Pearce offers the polar opposite from his fellow leads in an over-the-top performance that tries too hard to fill the role of the antagonist in a film consisting of unsympathetic and unpleasant personalities. As for Gary Oldman, his top-billing culminates in approximately 7 minutes of screen time that feels rather pointless in hindsight. Along with the rising stars of Chastain and Wasikowska, its a real shame that the writing dilutes the impact of the entire cast.

Visually Lawless fails to do anything interesting with its period or Virginia setting. Hillcoat’s previous film The Road succeeded in portraying an post-apocalyptic world, desolate and deranged through impressive cinematography and set locations. Here, apart from the extreme violence, that really adds nothing artistically or thematically, Lawless lacks any visual flair, to the point that CGI is even used to enhance pyrotechnics. The environments are recycled in numerous scenes giving Lawless a noticeably small scale. Even the soundtrack can’t escape its generic nature with cliche folk songs, and rather mistimed and mismatched musical accompaniment in various scenes. 

Overall Lawless is a mildly entertaining film that is undoubtably hindered by its writing. It’s a shallow affair that fails to build on its brief moments of intensity and magic, and to take advantage of its very capable cast. Disappointing. 


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