Film Review : Lawless (2012)

QFT film of the week

Lawless – Filmnation Entertainment – 2012


By Peter McLoughlin @PeterGownArts

I’m tempted to use the word ‘flawless’, but that’s a bit of a tawdry rhyme, and also ever-so-slightly inaccurate.  There are a few minor flaws, but over-all Lawless is a superb film.

The film centres around three brothers living in America; bootleggers during prohibition in the 1930’s.  They are forced to adapt and defend their living from the inevitable crooked authorities looking for a portion of their profit.

The screenplay was adapted by the mercurial – the living-legend that is – Nick Cave, and it is dark and expressive and balanced well with moments of real wit and tenderness.  Although it is a film concerned with raw masculinity, Cave’s script and the female lead’s acting ensure a well-developed – and credible – love story entwines with the plot.

The director, John Hillcoat (who also directed Nick Cave-written The Proposition, and Nick Cave-scored The Road), expertly splices moments of sharp, short violence with slow shots of stunning natural beauty; he captures the strong variety of characters in all their failings as unsentimentally and he captures their minor moments of glory.  Aside from the perhaps too ‘nicely’ tied together ending (and the strange final explanation of the fate of Tom Hardy’s character), nothing is drawn out, forced, or fake.

If the undoubted class in the film comes from anywhere though, it is from the cast.  Shia LaBeouf plays the insecure, queasy but charming narrator with typical style; Mia Wasikowska continues her habit of being the loveliest thing in anything she is in; Noah Taylor – who could surely play Nick Cave in a biopic, if one ever comes to pass – stands out too for his understated performance.  But the two actors and the characters that the film pivots upon, Tom Hardy’s Forrest Bondurant, and Guy Pearce’s Charlie Rakes, are terrific.  Hardy is not only utterly believable; he also successfully balances the dichotomy of the imperious bootlegger and that of the comically innocent romantic.  Likewise, Pearce – who is quietly building quite the career – is intensely unlikeable, grotesque even.  But he is supposed to be.  Both actors play their parts with a most tremendous conviction and a most subtle black humour.

The plot isn’t altogether the most original – outlaws on the rise crossing paths with a new wave of government authority – and you’ll hardly leap out of your seat in excitement, yet every aspect of the film is delivered with a superior creative excellence that raises it above criticism in that respect.  A dark, clever, riveting film.

Lawless is showing in the QFT until September 20th.

2 responses to “Film Review : Lawless (2012)

  1. {Potential Spoilers}

    I just seen this film on Wednesday night and really enjoyed it! However, to be fair, there were some scenes that were poorly done in terms of the cinematography and Gary Oldman’s appearance just seems to be a last minute marketing attempt to attach a big name actor to a small role/character who isn’t active in the film much. Why his name is billed before gut Pearce I’ll never know. But, overall it’s a great watch that’ll have you laughing and the Bondurant Boys’ behaviour/awkwardness around women as well as Forest’s guttural noises, squirming at the violence that often comes unexpectedly, and feeling sympathetic toward some, if not all the characters at one point or another.


    • That’s a good point – that’s why I didn’t mention Gary Oldman in the review. If he hadn’t been billed as one of the main men he would have been fine – if he had of been a surprise cameo, I think it would have worked, but as you say, putting his name ahead of Pearce’s is ker-aazay no matter how much Batman people watch!


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