The Prohibition-era bootlegging Bondurant brothers run afoul of corrupt lawmen and are almost torn apart by family turmoil in “Lawless”, the new film from director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave.
Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke play Jack, Forrest, and Howard Bondurant, respectively, and Guy Pearce plays a sadistic lawman named Charlie Rakes.
This marks the second collaboration between Hillcoat and Cave, who previously provided similar credits for the 2005 western “The Proposition”. This film is not nearly as ambitious in its storytelling; it’s fairly generic and adheres to several genre conventions and tells a predictable story in predictable fashion.
Events aren’t so much foreshadowed as they are winked at to the audience with all the subtlety of a hammer banging a nail into a fence. Any audience member with knowledge of Prohibition films or gangster films about dirty cops could tell the events coming from a mile away, but they are always shown in style. At least it’s not boring.
Hillcoat and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme frame their shots well, recreating the era convincingly and adequately composing a backwoods country landscape. They also make sure the violence is brutal. It really is something else in this film: close up shots of throat-cutting and gunshot wounds, as well as one wicked neck-snapping scene, give the film impactful violence.
The acting ranges in terms of quality, even though none of the stars are bad actors. Tom Hardy lends nuance to his character as well as a soul to his violent tendencies and a slight menace to his quiet moments.
However, LaBeouf is not convincing. Whereas Hardy becomes his character, LaBeouf essentially plays a southern version of the character he always plays. Clarke gets into his character, but this brother is the least fleshed-out; there’s not much for him to do.
And that’s the problem with many of the characters in this film; they aren’t interesting. Gary Oldman basically just gets a cameo as a big-name gangster, and Mia Wasikowska gives a tepid performance in a lukewarm romance subplot involving LaBeouf’s character.
Jessica Chastain gives a solid performance, but her character’s path is just as predictable as the film, and the trauma her character suffers doesn’t even matter to the plot.
Pearce owns almost every scene he’s in as the villain. As usual, he completely loses himself in his role, and waiting to see what his character does next provides most of the suspense. However, he is in constant danger of going over the top until the climax, where be basically becomes a cartoon character, shouting at the heroes of the film and flailing his pistol while still landing perfect shots for no good reason.
“Lawless” falls to predictability in story and doesn’t enthrall on a high enough level. It’s a fine, serviceable movie to watch on cable TV, but that is about it. It’s not bold or very creative; it’s just workman-like.
Well-made, but forgettable.