Lawless is a film with a pedigree that goes beyond just the actors. The film was written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, a writer director team that also brought us The Proposition in 2005. On his how Hillcoat also directed The Road (yet another film where Viggo Mortensen inexplicably didn't win an Oscar). The Proposition is a great film. It is harsh and hopeless with a feeling of doom and grittiness from beginning to end. It is also largely flawless in it's production.
Lawless is less like that. It has some warts.
You are not entirely sure how the film is going to shake out when you first settle into your seat. The film doesn't even really define precisely who some of the characters are--and there is no need to. The sketches it does make of them through their actions let you know all you need to. Oldman's Floyd Banner is the most obvious example of this but it doesn't stop with him (also note Oldman fans, he is NOT in this movie much).
The film looks great and we understand what is going on right away. It is prohibition time and people are making booze to make ends meet (it is also the end of the Great Depression which is barely alluded to in the film). Gangsters from outside come in to take over. And we all know what happens when carpet baggers come to the South right?
The nefarious character, the one we actually become acquainted with, is Pearce's Charlie Rakes. Pearce can play hero, villain, an accountant or pretty much anything he puts his mind to. His character here is a dandified sociopath come to make sure the hicks do things right. A lot of his scenes in the film are close to too far over the top--scenery chewing
at its best but still scenery chewing!
But not all of them.
Early in the film there is a brief exchange with the local sheriff where, at length, the sheriff says "I don't much like you." To this Rakes replies, "There are not many who do" and then nibbles on a cookie like a giant rodent. It is a brief scene where Pearce brings something else to the role than sneering and simpering. Don't take this wrong--the sneering and simpering does work for the character and Pearce delivers it all with an effortlessness that doesn't take you out of the movie.
It just also begs for more of the insight Pearce gives in that one, brief, scene.
And while the film never drags it is also not an action packed gangster film as you might think from the trailer. This is
not The Untouchables. It is fairly slow moving with bursts of violence, it has much more of a real feeling than with the
run of the mill 40s style gangster film.
LaBeouf's character, Jack, is a contrast to his brothers. He is more gregarious, wants more out of life and seems to
idolize a gangster. He wants the flashy cars and nice clothes his brothers are indifferent to. He is also not as tough as
they are or as violent--at least not to start. LaBeouf's best scenes are those involving his love-interest, Bertha, played
by Mia Wasikowska. They have a chemistry that never really appears for Hardy and Jessica Chastain.
One problem with the movie, without giving anything away, is its editing. Not the technical part of it but the passage of
time. For example a character gets a punch in the nose early in the film. Then another character gets a serious ass
whupping. In several subsequent scenes we see the second character heal but then, at the end of the film, presumably some time later, we see the "nose punch" character still bandaged. Do stars heal faster than actors with fewer lines?
The film, in general, has a sort of choppiness when it comes to time. It doesn't destroy the movie but it is noticeable
and awkward. If people walk out puzzled that there seemed to be something wrong with Lawless but they couldn't put their finger on it? This "choppiness" might be it. It makes you wonder what is on the cutting room floor and if there might be more to the film than made it to the multiplex.
This film wouldn't have been harmed with 20 minutes more but rather enhanced. The film doesn't leave you wanting less but more.
Nonetheless, based on the actors and the look of the film alone, this is a movie that is way above most of what lands in the theaters in late summer. It also does something only good films do; it makes you think about it after you see it.
You may pull out little flaws or little gems or both but the very fact it sticks in your consciousness tells you there is
something better than average in Lawless—and that is a combination of the writing, direction, cinematography and acting.
It isn’t one thing. It is never just one thing that takes a film to the next level.