If Aussie director John Hillcoat had suddenly found himself charged with the task of doing a ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ reboot, one imagines it wouldn’t be at all that dissimilar to ”Lawless”, a southern fried actioner with as much machismo as it does moonshine.
Hillcoat, known for directing dark, bleak period pieces (and ones that generally amplify the repercussions of committing violent acts) like ”The Proposition” and ”The Road”, doesn’t lighten up too much, nor get ‘with the times’, with Lawless but when films are this good, ain’t nobody going to complain about another’s comfort zone.
Hillcoat has found his niche in the dark, character-deep history lesson, and ”Lawless” is another solid achievement for the welomingly glum but imaginative filmmaker.
Working with a script by Hillcoat’s regular collaborator, musician Nick Cave, Hillcoat’s film is set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, where a bootlegging outfit (run by brothers played by Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke and Shia LaBeouf ) comes under attack by a new, crooked deputy (Guy Pearce) – and various other figures, including mobster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman)- who want in on the profits, naturally.
Not surprisingly, considering he’s cinema’s new leading boy-man, the film fixes largely on LaBeouf’s young Jack , the youngest and most timid of the bank robbing brothers, who is forced to grow and man-up when the company’s responsibility ultimately falls largely on him, and growing competition seeps in. In addition to trying to win over the drinkers of the South, Jack’s also out to court off-limits preacher’s daughter, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).
Just as he did on his previous films, Hillcoat’s managed to wrangle top-notch performances from his entire cast. It’s the thesps taking center stage – LaBeouf, Hardy, Oldman and especially Jessica Chastain, as one of the brother’s moll’s – that actually keep you watching, slightly more than the plot itself.
While intriguing enough, and definitely an appeal to fans of the gangster movie, there’s a few flaws in the stitching that see it come undone in a few spots. Some of it feels significantly padded, as if Hillcoat felt the need to stretch the duration of the thing by 30 minutes or more (gangster films run long, after all), in turn adding a languishing pace to proceedings. In addition, Cave’s script’s sure got a head on it, counting itself more of an ambitious and epic tale than the screen would agree.
But with its superb line up of performers, superb production values and some wonderfully choreographed action sequences, don’t go avoiding ”Lawless” simply because the drink isn’t as stiff as it could’ve been.
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