Lawless is a western we’ve seen a dozen times over. That isn’t meant to sound like an indictment. More of a challenge, really.
See, if a movie with a story as old as the genre itself is brave enough to be subjected to criticism, then it better present its tale with heavy doses of revisionist flavor. If not, then we’re likely to become (and stay) bored. And as gently and accurately as I can put it, John Hillcoat’s Lawless is a fresh mix of both of those notions. Its story is tired, but its execution is refreshing, resulting in utter indifference. From me, anyway.
Painfully familiar, sure. But worthy, maybe.
Helping to add merit is the troupe of fine actors involved including Shia LaBeouf (as youngest brother, Jack), Jason Clarke (as boozer middle brother, Howard), and Tom Hardy (as the strong but silent oldest brother, Forrest). At least one of these guys, namely LaBeouf and Hardy, are in damn near every scene of the film. The movie rests on their shoulders, and they carry it through beyond what the moderately weak script offers them.
The showstopper, it must be said, is Guy Pearce, who plays Chicago enforcer, Charlie Rakes with more charm and slime than you can possibly imagine. With his high-pitched voice, perfectly tailored suits, and generally psychopathic demeanor, Pearce steals every single frame he is on screen. And when Rakes isn’t in the mix, you keep counting the minutes until he shows up again. It’s a fantastic (yet, again, underwritten) villain that Pearce does wonders with.
Criminally underused are Gary Oldman, as a reigning local thug, Jessica Chastain, as Hardy’s new woman, and Mia Wasikowska, as LaBeouf’s love interest. And it is the lack of development of these characters that can be applied to all of the film’s major faults.
Look, when Lawless hits, it hits hard. Its violence is fast, furious, and appropriately brutal. But when failed deals aren’t going down, the movie is simply uninteresting. It’s hard for me to recall any of the witty banter the Bondurant’s ceaselessly seem to engage in – I found myself that removed.
Hillcoat brought a similar revisionist flare to his miraculous The Proposition seven years ago. That film is 12 minutes shorter than Lawless, and damn if you can’t tell. Where Lawless drags, The Proposition propelled. Is Lawless worth your time? I suppose, for the actors alone. But you’re far better off checking out The Proposition instead. C