Monday, 10 September 2012

Review: Lawless

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Lawless poster

115 mins / Dir. John Hillcoat

My heart sinks when I see the words 'Based on a true story'. It's usually reserved for sub-par horror movies and mid-afternoon made-for-TV melodramas. In the case of a historical drama, however, it's entirely forgivable. Particularly when the historical era in question was full of bent cops and machine guns...

It may be adapted from a novel, but Lawless feels like an absent-minded memoir. The whole film suffers from a meandering narrative that introduces characters, then forgets about them for half an hour or so while we focus on the minutiae of courting a preacher's daughter. Like listening to an old-timer telling a fascinating story about his youth but being constantly sidetracked by coincidental memories, it's as if it should make a good 12-part series, but too much has been lost in cutting it down to film-size (and yet, too much has also been left in).

Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke manage to just about rescue things as the Bondurant brothers, operating a moonshine business in the middle of the prohibition era. Guy Pearce overacts marvellously as Special Agent Rakes, determined to end their operation, and Gary Oldman is pretty much wasted as Floyd Banner, a gangster who is becoming the Bondurant's biggest customer. Everyone else is almost window-dressing, sadly, and when the story can't focus on those five characters for any length of time, the supporting cast stand no chance.

It's a real shame, because Lawless has the ingredients of a fine film; dry humour, likeable/hateable characters, moments of horrific violence, moments of genuine warmth. It looks fantastic, but it feels unfocused. With 30 minutes more than it needs, it ends up trying to cover too many bases, and comes out as merely good. With faster pacing and a tighter narrative, it could have been great.


Oh, and stop mumbling your fucking lines, you lot.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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