Lawless - Cinema Review

'Hardy may have a hulking physique that provides a presence with few equals in modern day cinema but on this occasion it is not enough'

Considering the amount of fuss that sprung up around Tom Hardy's pronunciation, elocution and general ability to form a sentence in The Dark Knight Rises, it is surprising more has not been made of the very same in Lawless. As stand-in patriarch of the Bondurant family, Hardy's Forrest burbles his way through Nick Cave's script as if he is trying to reproduce the vocal noises of a Predator. He may have a hulking physique that provides a presence with few equals in modern day cinema but on this occasion it is not enough. Forrest too often comes across as confused or, worse, stupid. Hardly qualities he seemed to require.

That puts Lawless, straight away, into something of a problem state, given that its second lead is Shia LaBeouf. With Hardy providing the presence but no discernibly brilliant acting to speak of, LaBeouf is handed the task of story make-weight. He is, in all fairness, better here than he has been anywhere else but he is still an actor with a long way to go before he even hits 'good'. His presence is preternaturally cocksure, conflicted and out of time: he looks like a Teddy Boy with hipster affectations, yet doesn't convince as either, if ever he was meant to.

So, whilst neither lead is awful, they both leave gaping, significant, holes at the heart of John Hillcoat's film, holes which it never manages to completely fill. Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Jason Clarke are all good but none of them get the time in Cave's script to bring things back up to spec. The story too is just too simple a conflict story, as modernisation (in the form of Guy Pearce's oddly snivelling antagonist) threatens to sweep all those living a traditional way of life (moonshine included) from the floors of the Virginia Valleys.

What the film does have in abundance is style. The soundtrack jumps and skips all over the place - from traditional country to very modern-sounding solo performances - but does it with grandeur. Cave's script is lacking in story development but fluid of dialogue. The costuming, especially when anyone needs to stand out (Chastain, Wasikowska, Pearce) is perfect. On one or two occasions the violence ramps up to squirm inducing levels (you'll know when it first happens, in a scene shocking in how graphic it opts for) and the whole thing finally kicks up another gear.

That is, eventually, just enough to keep the thing involving, but it is an 'only just'. Two voids in the lead are almost too big a problem to return from, even in a film with as much talent as this.


  1. How's the digital photography? I heard it was a bit of a sticking point for a few reviewers. Some prefer period pieces to be shot on film stock (I'd agree). There's something a little distracting in shooting period films on digital a la Public Enemies.

    1. It's not as obvious as Public Enemies. I know what you mean with that one and it had a definite 'digital' look to it (something to do with the frame rate?). This looks fine, and the cinematography is pretty good on occasion.

    2. If I had to guess it might be down to exposure to light that's different to film.

      Was interested in seeing Lawless (but chose Dredd instead) but it's hightailed it out of my local.

      Along with Killing Them Softly it's a little dispiriting how fast the films are leaving the cinema.

    3. Yeah, I felt pretty lucky to catch Holy Motors last weekend. Luckily The Cornerhouse in Manchester had kept it on. But you're right, especially if its a local chain cinema with 5-9 screens they get them moved along pretty sharply.