Starring: Shia LaBoeuf (Transformers), Tom Hardy (Inception), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Guy Pearce (Memento)
Director: John Hillcoat (The Road)
Writer: Nick Cave
Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes
Release Date: 31 August (US), 7 September (UK)
It took me a while to get round to seeing Lawless, but now that the release schedule has died down a bit, I had the time to catch this one before it fades out of theatres. It seems a little late to review it because if you were interested, you probably saw it already, but I’ll throw in my two cents anyway.
If I had to sum up Lawless in one word, that word would be ‘inconsistent’. There are moments in this film that are great but, like a hick hopped up on moonshine, it stumbles far too often. The film starts out well and quickly (maybe too quickly) establishes the key players and their motives. Then the movie takes a nap until the end of the second act. Sure, stuff happens but it’s all done at the pace of a pleasant Sunday stroll in the park. Characters walk out of the movie and don’t show up again for ages, and despite the decent running time the subplots don’t feel as tied up as the ending wants you to think they are. When the movie finally gets going again, it starts to become really good. But then the film ends on this sugary sweet ending and it just doesn’t seem right. If you want a satisfying ending, walk out before the last five minutes; it won’t feel as jarring.
What really saves the movie from being mediocre are two things. Firstly, the performances are superb across the board. This is arguably LaBoeuf’s finest performance, but compared to everyone else he looks as amateurish as a 15 year old in a high school rendition of Bugsy Malone. Hardy is as strong as ever, and delivers his lines in a Southern twang comparable to Jeff Bridges in True Grit, but still understandable without the use of subtitles. Jessica Chastain also keeps up her winning streak, though her role falters due to lack of development. Gary Oldman shows up every now and again, but despite his best efforts he seems mostly irrelevant. But the standout here is Guy Pearce as the villain. He is so slimy and ruthless that you come to love every single frame he’s on screen. His performance often borders on the cartoonish, but then he beats the crap out of someone and you suddenly remember this guy can do some serious damage. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.
The other great thing about this film is the violence. This movie is much darker than the publicity suggests, and I was wincing at certain moments. Within the first five minutes, Hardy beats a guy half to death with some brass knuckles, and what follows after that gets even more gruesome. It all comes together at the end for a shoot-out that’s very reminiscent of Bonnie & Clyde. The other technical aspects of the film work, but none are truly memorable. I found the editing strange at certain points; it definitely seems like they got enough angles to cover all the scenes, but I feel they don’t use the right shots at certain points. The music itself works fine and fits with the tone, but whenever they use anything with lyrics, it feels very off-putting.
To sum up, Lawless is a decent film, but it could have been so much more. With a script rewrite by a more experienced writer, this could have been an Oscar contender. But I must judge the film for what it is, and it is a film with great performances and some gruesome violence but falls apart in the structure and pacing department. See it if you still haven’t, but don’t be disappointed if you miss it before it gets dropped from your theatre.
FINAL VERDICT: 6.5/10