Films: Lawless

LAWLESS, John Hillcoat’s follow up to the quiet and haunting post-apocalyptic contemplation, The Road, is, in many ways, the direct opposite of that film. Whilst it is often just as visually interesting, it is a much louder film than his last. Lawless oscillates between the kind of quiet moments one expects from a Prohibition-era piece and the kind of roaring gunfire one expects from a mobster film from the same period. It boasts an unbelievable cast but sadly even they cannot breathe life into this surprisingly drab film. For all its pedigree, Lawless is simply far from flawless.

Based on the true account of the Bondurant brothers, as chronicled by their descendant, Matt Bondurant, in his novel, “The Wettest County in the World”, and adapted by singer/songwriter, Nick Cave, Lawless focuses most of its attention on the runt of the litter, Jack. Jack is played by the guy who coincidentally also has the most to prove in this project, Shia LaBeouf, who steps away from big budget blockbusters and toward bigger budget indies instead. To make this point abundantly clear, which Hillcoat does again and again with many of the film’s failed attempts at subtlety, Lawless opens with a young Jack being taunted by his older brothers as he struggles to catch the runt of a pig litter on their farm. LaBeouf catches the metaphorical pig and demonstrates his potential for meatier fare as his career continues, but when you’re acting opposite the likes of Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, your best isn’t necessarily good enough.

Lawless is also relentlessly violent and entirely unapologetic about the whole thing. As Jack escalates his brothers’ bootlegging operation in the face of mounting corruption amongst the police, a war is waged and it isn’t a pretty one. The question becomes what is anyone actually fighting for. Every character, save for Jack once he gets a taste of success, is cold and dispassionate. When they pick up their guns, no one has any concern for human life, be it their own or anyone else’s. There is rarely ever a moment of joy on any one face and this rampant lifelessness leaves the impression that all of this violence is simply unnecessary. As a result, Lawless is left rather listless.