Nuanced 1930s crime thriller with Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman Discuss this article
Virginia, 1931: a time of good men, bad cops, pretty girls and a world turned rotten by poverty and prohibition. Cinema has been in this glorified world many times before, and John Hillcoat and Nick Cave (yep, the musician), working together for the first time since 2005’s The Proposition, don’t much surprise with the thrust of their bone-cracking true tale of the bootlegging Bondurant brothers: Jack (LaBeouf), Forrest (Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke). In a rural backwater the boys run up against various obstacles: a mean cop from Chicago, Charley Rakes (Pearce); an Al Capone type from the big smoke, Floyd Banner (Oldman); and two beautiful women whose backgrounds stand in the way of love (Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain).
Lawless is not a nuanced tale: the Bondurants begin as honest, if extremely violent, folk and finish up that way. Even the small-town cops seem apologetic whenever they have to put an awkward question or two to the brothers. Locally the boys have a reputation for being invincible, such is their ability to bounce back from adversity.
Hillcoat and Cave’s decision to be very liberal with the bloodletting and throat-cutting – knuckledusters in faces, body parts in jars – doesn’t stop their film from feeling a bit too pretty, in the same way that Wasikowska and Chastain are perhaps too glossily beautiful for Jack and Forrest’s respective love interests. Where Lawless has more to offer is Benoît Delhomme’s photography – there are great pastoral shots – and a relaxed direction by Hillcoat that gives time to endearing performances and a strong sense of time and place.
There’s little in Lawless to upset a romantic vision of the Bondurants’ lives and experiences. That’s surely because Cave’s script is based on a 2008 novel, The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of one of the brothers. Hillcoat and Cave tell this tale from a perspective of blind fondness, like elderly relatives romanticising their ancestors around the fireplace. It makes for an oddly comfy experience considering the death and hurt at the film’s core. Dave CalhounBy Time Out staff
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