Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: Lawless

Rating: 18
Duration: 116 mins

John Hillcoat's last film, The Road, was a faithfully-adapted, bleak take on the apocalypse, and his latest also falls into the category of novel adaptations; this time courtesy of Matt Bondurant (the grandson of the story's protagonists).

The transfer from novel -- originally titled The Wettest County in the World -- to big screen in the capable hands of Nick Cave (The Assassination of Jesse James; The Proposition) assures a well-paced, intensely authentic depiction of the Bondurant brothers (Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke and Shia LaBeouf, respectively) that proves an interesting if somewhat vague tale of the so-called immortal siblings.

With LaBeouf recently announcing his desire to pursue a career down the indie route, Lawless is appropriate to showcase his talents in an attempt to distance himself from the annoying twerp in Transformers. And it serves him well, because not only does he take centre stage ahead of the up-and-coming Hardy and the blink-and-you'll-miss-it contribution from Gary Oldman, he succeeds in delivering a performance to match the amount of screentime he's given.

Set in rural Virginia during the Depression, the three brothers make a living from their illicit dealings in moonshine, as they enforce a local Bondurant law of fear and violence. That is until a new, unhinged deputy (Guy Pearce) enters the fray. It's perhaps his portrayal that is most memorable, with his shaved eyebrows, centre-parted, slicked hair and (debateably) immaculate sense of style that set him apart. Both Hardy and Jessica Chastain offer subtle, more reserved performances, with the former generating humour with grunty nuances from time to time.

Whilst the acting is consistently strong, the narrative leaves a little more to be desired. As the feud between Bondurants and local law intensifies, there's little incident along the way that significantly builds to its climactic finale. Neither is there a particularly strong presence of sub plotting or subtext,  either, rendering the emotion of the characters somewhat impenetrable. What's more, the vagueness of plot points and lack of exposition prevents the characters from feeling particularly rounded or muster depth and engagement with them.

Even though the story is loose and tends to hone in on the plights of family and responsibility, it has its moments during a lengthy runtime, yet lacks the compelling nature of what it should be due to the overuse of ambiguity. Commendably, Hillcoat's period piece certainly looks the part with an authenticity that makes you wish you were able to experience things firsthand. However, such is the throwaway nature of the beast, Lawless ultimately culminates as a good film rather than a great one.