There were many movies this year that were worse than Lawless, but out of the ones I've seen none had worse pacing. It's a shame too, because there are many great moments in this movie but overall it bored the hell out of me. The film has few really amazing sequences only to turn into misguided snooze fest for several following scenes. The third act is a complete mess and all in all the only thing that keeps you watching is the lovely cinematography and the talented ensemble of actors. I shouldn't be that surprised, though - John Hillcoat's movies aren't exactly gripping. While his sullen and apocalyptic The Road was a fascinating watch, getting through this movie was a real challenge.
But let's get back to Lawless - based on real events the film tells the story of three brothers - Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Jack (Shia Labeouf) Bondurants, famous for running bootlegging operation during the depression. Howard is a drunk and a muscle, Forrest is the quintessential strong but silent type and Jack, the youngest brother, is a loser and a wannabe gangster. Guess which one of them is protagonist?
The boys are chased by sadistic and creepy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), police officer who is both violent and ruthless. Meanwhile, both Jack and Forrest find time for a little romance - Jack sets his sights on preacher's daughter (played by lovely Mia Wasikowska, who is very underused here) and Forrest silently lusts over bartender with troubled past - Maggie (horribly wasted Jessica Chastain, who at least looks very pretty here and brings a bit of subtlety to the mix).
The amount of characters is one of the biggest problems here - Rakes, who is probably the most interesting in the bunch, disappears for what felt like an hour from the screen. Gary Oldman is in the movie for maybe 2 minutes as a gangster Floyd Banner and he steals the show from everyone because every single character in this movie is so one dimensional that when Oldman comes in, playing the only charismatic guy in the picture, the movie belongs to him, instantly. Pearce would have had a chance to create something really great here but because the script made his character into such a one dimensional villain, he really doesn't stand a chance.
While everyone tries their hardest, the script written by none other than Nick Cave, really doesn't give them any chance. Cave is a terrific musician but a very lousy writer - none of the characters is developed enough for us to actually care about these people we are watching and it seems like Cave chose the easy way out - create the villain so dangerous and sadistic that we root for the good guys because, well, we don't want anyone to suffer like that. The reason why I did give the movie generous six is the level of violence that actually disturbed me and that is something you always want to see in a movie featuring gangsters - the tarring is always freaky and it's very disturbing here and the movie has perhaps the most unpleasant and gross throat cutting scene I've seen.
I don't blame the actors for how flat they characters felt, all of the blame is on the script here. Hell, even Shia Labeouf managed to create something decent out of nothing. Hardy tries the best he can, but more often than not, his gloomy character comes off as cartoonish, again because of Cave's inability to write a decent script and give just a little depth to the main heroes. Wasikowska and Chastain are both great actresses but they are forgettable here, however their presence adds at least a little of lighter touch to the film. Both of them deserved so much better, though.
Usually Hillcoat's movies have great soundtracks but this one is as big of a mess as the movie itself - the bizarre blend of cheesy songs and the annoying almost industrial sound whenever something brutal happens on screen not only takes you out of the movie but it irritates you to no end. Thank God for the lovely cinematography - the film is beautifully shot and it was a sheer pleasure to see the amount of attention to detail that was put in every shot of the movie. It's amazing how even the most brutal and unpleasant of scenes have curious beauty to them, like the chilling scene when Maggie comes back to the bar, as snowflakes slowly fall from the sky during full moon.
There are several great scenes in the film that almost make it worth seeing - the bizarre and disturbing scene with the girl crying on Rakes's bed, the attack on Forrest and the scene where Jack comes to church to see the girl he likes. Unfortunetly, in movies like this one it is the climax that should be the biggest punch and the shootout in this movie is as boring as in another failed gangster film - Public Enemies. To sum up, the only people who should see this one are fans of either of the actors in the cast and let's face it - guys who want to see Jessica Chastain's breasts - they may be better than this whole movie.
Lawless (116 min, 2012)
Plot: Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits.
Writers: Nick Cave (screenplay), Matt Bondurant (novel)
Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Guy Pearce