Sunday 16 September 2012

Review: Lawless

Year: 2012
Director: John Hillcoat
Screenplay: Nick Cave
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke

Synopsis is here

I went into Lawless completely forgetting that it was a John Hillcoat film. It doesn't take long for a fan to notice his fingerpirints however, as Lawless displays the most obvious of his themes and obsessions. Even the name of the film lays everything bear on the table. We're dealing with similar disorder within the likes of The Proposition or The Road. Once again arguing that the bond of family ties are strengthened during such times of tempestuous and desperate times.

Lawless has enough going for it to be recommended. It's attention to the period's detail in terms of look is authentic enough, with the pastel visuals only helping matters. We never reach the same heights as the likes of The Road, but the film gives a dignified nod to the westerns that Hillcoat loves. A silhouette homage to The Searchers near the end is a pleasurable example.

The struggles of the period are hinted at but never really placed in full focus. For instance; segregation, misogyny and poverty flitter around in the background. but we never gain any depth. We observe small scenes of the pain but never enough to provide insight. The segregated water fountains explain the situation, but a scene involving an African American funeral doesn't do enough to show how strong these brothers are needed within the community. It feels like an afterthought.

With such matters relegated to the background, Lawless often feels aimless and meandering. What's the main point that it's trying to pull across? That LaBeouf's Jack is a feckless coward that needs to grow some balls? This feels like the main thread and it's just not strong enough to be fully engaging. When paired with The Proposition, with it's tighter plot, leaner pacing and more purposeful intent, Lawless pales in comparison.

Lawless is also slightly wasteful with it's ingredients. The seems to be little point in having the likes of Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain within the film other than to have their names on the posters. Their characters never really stand out or truly add much to the film. It's lucky that Guy Pearce is on hand to nash his teeth through the scenery like a wild dog, devouring all of the scripts best lines as if they were pork cutlets. Hardy's stoic older brother of little words has brooding to spare but is in no way the mans best work. As the lead LaBeouf seems to have perfected playing maddeningly annoying young twerps. The man has screen presence, he just happens to play characters I dislike. Mia Wasikowska, like Chastain, also needs more to do.

There isn't much more to say about Lawless other than it's a decent crime entry that does it's job for it's running time. It doesn't reach the heights of say Bonnie and Clyde, Public Enemies or The Untouchables, but it doesnt offend in any real way. Maybe that's the problem.