Lawless (2012), directed by John Hillcoat
I’ll tell you what, if ever there was a movie made for me it’s Lawless (well, and Drive). It’s got it all: Hill people. Bluegrass soundtrack. Fast cars and hooch running. A campy Guy Pearce law enforcement character. A screenplay by Nick Cave, a favourite musician of mine. A grunting Tom Hardy. Jessica Chastain doing anything at all, ever.
What could go wrong?
Well, certainly not everything. But some things.
I did have a good ole time watching Lawless but it never hit the campy, Bonnie and Clyde-type feel I think it was going for. Actually, I’m surprised the film even got made. I wouldn’t have thought there would be much call for a moonshining story. I mean, I’m interested, but then again I have a friend who moonshines and I play the banjo, so, you know.
Anyway, I had hoped that with Cave involved and the weird premise that the film would be a little off the wall. Pearce certainly is, with his shaved eyebrows and penchant for gloves, and the soundtrack has this great Cave take on hill music thing going on. On that level the film does revel in its hillbilly-ness.
But on the other level the story is pretty standard. And really, even having the weird law enforcement agent is nothing new. The film felt like an extended episode of Boardwalk Empire at times, in that regard. And then you have characters that sort of appear once in a while and then are put aside for awhile, like Gary Oldman’s Floyd Banner. Even Pearce, the nemesis, disappears for long stretches, which makes us care less about him.
Pacing is the primary issue. A film like this needs to be tight, because it really doesn’t have that much for the audience to grab on to other than the action and development of the story. It needs to move along like a bootlegger running from the law. And I think it really could have benefitted by working more with the Hardy versus Pearce aspect.
Some of the time-passing moments are awkward and it has some sections that meander like the lazy sections of the Mississippi River rolling by the cotton fields. Or something like that. There’s far too many characters to keep track of. Too many things happen that aren’t directly related to one another. It’s just kind of muddle.
Here’s the thing, if a film is going to be a tight, action, story-driven movie then it needs to keep things simple. One creepy lawman. The brothers as a tight unit. One love story. A tight timeline. A definitive finale. Make it the best Hollywood film it can be.
Or it needs to go the other way and totally mix things up. It needs to take itself less seriously, get a little out there, drink some ‘shine and let loose. Maybe go for a Terrence Malick-type thing, but only if you let him get drunk with Malcolm Lowry and Hunter S. Thompson.
Lawless tries to be both and ends up neither. Which is really unfortunate because it started with a good idea and had the talent behind it to make it into something special. It’s a fun watch at times, and, in case I didn’t mention it, Jessica Chastain is in it, but it could have been so much more.
Lawless is in theatres now.