Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce
Directed by John Hillcoat (The Road)
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
Set in the world of illegal bootlegging in Prohibition-era Franklin County, Virginia, three brothers (LaBeouf, Hardy and Jason Clarke) who run a successful still are on top of the world until a corrupt official (Pearce) attempts to try to take his share of their earnings.
Over the past few years I have become quite a fan of director John Hillcoat. His films The Proposition and The Road are two of my favorites from the last decade. He has a knack for taking gritty projects and making them so real you can practically wipe the dirt off the screen. If you haven’t seen those two films, check them out. But I recommend you avoid Lawless. You could easily accuse me of bringing in too high of an expectation, and you’d probably be right. After all, you have a director with vision combined with an artistic writer (Nick Cave) and a cast full of solid actors. So I would say I have a right to my lofty expectations. I’m just sad that the film fell way short.
So here’s one of the problems – the film isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. Part of the issue is that while the cast is very good, the actors either aren’t right for the roles or the choices the actors make for their characters aren’t right for the film. Shia LaBeouf seems like he is trying too hard. Guy Pearce seems like he is in the wrong movie. Jessica Chastain is too clean, too out of place. I do think Tom Hardy and Mia Wasikowska were well chosen but their performances would have been so much better had the rest of the cast been appropriate. Gary Oldman is the only actor who really knocks it out. Unfortunately he’s only in the film for a few minutes. Which brings me to my second problem.
The script by Nick Cave is not terrific. There are some great elements to the film and some unforgettable visuals (not sure who gets the credit there) but overall the script makes the film seem as if it is trying too hard to be a Coen Brothers film and not a John Hillcoat project. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sense of humor that permeates throughout much of the picture, but I failed to reach an emotional connection to any of the characters. I was okay with any of them dying. Even when your heroes are criminals – that’s not a good thing. Also, one thing that can make a mediocre film great is an evil villain and Pearce as the antagonist is more annoying than evil. I love a good maniacal bad guy but the character Pearce brings to the screen I just want to flick in the head and tell him to go away. The one character I am afraid of here is Gary Oldman’s gang leader. I just wish they had found a way to make him a more pivotal part of the story and cast.
So while I really wanted to enjoy what could have and should have been a stellar period crime drama, I found myself picking out problem after problem that could have very easily been fixed. C