Lawless

Director: John Hillcoat.

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska.

Written by: Nick Cave and (novel “The Wettest County In The World”) Matt Bondurant.

Running Time: 115 mins

Cert: 18

Release date: 7th September 2012

Now that the summer is over and the blockbusters have been packed away for another year (or until Christmas) it’s time for more adult fare to fill the cinemas, kicking off with a Prohibition gangster film with excessive violence and strong performance, if slightly flawed.

The Bondurant brothers run a moonshine business in a small town where even the local sheriff’s office enjoy their offerings. Jack, the youngest member and the meeker of the three; Howard, the bruiser and muscle with Forrest, the family’s brains and quiet leader of the gang. All is fine until very crooked Special Officer Charles Rakes arrives and want a piece of the action. When the brothers turn him down, a personal war to wipe out the local bootleg businesses begin with Jack thinking they are invincible when he starts selling to Chicago mobster Floyd Bannister. However, this is not the way things are going to go.

This is definitely a film of two halves. The first half, in which we are introduced to the characters, feels very disjointed. Maybe it doesn’t help that most of the cast have adopted such strong Southern accents it takes time to adjust to what they are saying. Once we have settled down and the war begins between the brothers and the ruthless Rakes, the film picks up both pace and momentum and we have a cracking gangster flick reminiscent to those of years gone by.

The production looks amazing. Beautifully shot with a terrific sense of period, John Hillcoat, whose last film with the excellent The Road, re-teams with scriptwriter Nick Cave (yes, the rock star. The pair worked together on the equally brilliant The Proposition)  and so already there is an air of excitement with this film. However, Cave’s script isn’t as strong this time round and so we get scenes that don’t quite work together as we are introduced to all the main players. Based on a true story, it needed to go straight into the action but instead it takes its time to explore the relationships. This isn’t usually a bad thing and you wish that some other films would take their time to do this but it’s a good hour before it really takes off.

The performances from the first-rate cast are, as you would expect, very good. Shia LaBeouf is finally given a decent role after having the annoying brat part in the Transformer films. Playing the nervous Jack, this allows LaBeouf the opportunity to shine and hopefully he will get better roles from now on. Jason Clarke is perfect as the brawn of the family, Howard. The film is stolen though by Tom Hardy as the quietly spoken head, Forrest. His screen presence is so powerful he doesn’t have to do much to grab your attention.

Gary Oldman impressive in a small cameo as the Chicago mobster Bannister and while Guy Pearce looks like pure evil as Rakes, his performance only manages to stay this side of pantomime baddie, which is a pity. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska do fine in badly underwritten parts.

The screen violence is brutal and shocking but works fine in the context. Yes, there are moments when you do flinch and yes it certainly deserves the 18 certificate that it has received. This is a mature, intelligent film that takes it’s time and by the end it is very satisfying. It’s just a pity that the first half isn’t as good as the second, otherwise this could have been an absolute masterpiece. Instead it’s a good film with solid performances. Worth seeing but don’t expect to be blown away.

3/5

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