With a top-notch cast, a director with his star on the rise and an interesting choice for a screenwriter, it would seem that Lawless would be one of the better films of the year. For the most part, Lawless lives up to that promise. It certainly has its issues but as popcorn entertainment for adults, it hits all the right notes.
Lawless follows the almost fairytale-styled story of the Bondurant brothers, who try to continue their bootlegging business as the government sends in a special agent (Guy Pearce) to bring them down.
The film is directed by John Hillcoat, whose most recent film, The Road, was a great adaptation of an even better book. Hillcoat has made a name for himself by using a dark and violent visual style. This and his past history with westerns (including The Propositionand a Red Dead Redemption short film) seemingly made him the perfect choice to direct this quasi-western (it’s set during the Prohibition era but has many hallmarks of the western genre). Sure enough Hillcoat delivers. This isn’t groundbreaking work, but everything Hillcoat puts into this film reaffirms that he is a director to look out for in the future. The action is striking. The world-building is done exceptionally and the visual style is something different from your typical action or western film.
The films faults are really due to Nick Cave (yes, the musician)’s script. It seems like the script is trying to make its characters stand out a little too much (like with Tom Hardy’s Forrest) or is including characters just because they are cool (like Gary Oldman’s Floyd Banner). The script also tries to include a twist that causes some awkward pacing before it is finally revealed (the twist is worth it in the end though as it gives one character a major moment). It also doesn’t help that a very serious film like this suddenly decides to go for the dark humor route for its ending.
The real selling point of this film, however, has always been the cast, and it doesn’t disappoint. Tom Hardy (just off his performance as Bane) brings back his tough guy act along with a new accent. The film builds his character up as a legend and Hardy doesn’t disappoint in living up to that as it seems so much is going on with this guy when he rarely ever speaks. Hardy is boosted by a bunch of great turns including Jason Clarke (who gets the least showy of the three leads but makes the most of it), Guy Pearce (wonderfully campy), Jessica Chastain (quiet until she nails her big moment in the final act), Mia Wasikowska (a lovely presence) and Gary Oldman (almost unrecognizable in a cameo).
My biggest worry about this film going in was the large role that was given to Shia LaBeouf. This worry was for naught as LaBeouf ends up being perfectly casted. He is supposed to be playing a guy that is out of his league, and LaBeouf makes the most of that. Also surprising is that Dane DeHaan (who brought down Chronicle a few notches for me) is good in his supporting turn.
Lawless doesn’t reinvent the wheel (or anything close to it), but as a film that comes out right as the movie season switches from the summer season of blockbusters to the fall season of adult dramas it is great entertainment.