Cannes 2012: ‘Lawless’ review


Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave’s numerous collaborations with fellow countryman John Hillcoat stretch back to video shoots, debut film Ghosts…of the Civil Dead (1988), Aussie western The Proposition (2005) and The Road (2009). With Lawless (2012) (formerly The Wettest County), the pair team up once again for an adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s Prohibition era novel, placed somewhere between the gangster and western genres.

Lawless tells the story of the Bondurant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), who set up a racket running moonshine out of the Virginia mountains. The Bondurants soon find themselves caught between the perils of their illegal activities and the greed of a local politician, who hires Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) to put the choke on the only moonshine outfit in the county who are not paying protection money. Meanwhile, youngest brother Jack announces his ambitions to work directly with Gary Oldman’s Chicago-based hood Floyd Banner, whilst at the same time wooing avid church-goer Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska).

As you can probably tell, there are enough narrative strands in Lawless for several films, or better still a HBO series – think Boardwalk Empire meets The Waltons. Hardy harrumphs his way through the script and, alongside ex-showgirl love interest Maggie (Jessica Chastain), is by far is the most pleasing presence in the film. Sadly, the same can’t be said of Wasikowska – who has very little to do except glow charmingly – or LaBeouf, who seems to be pursuing a career where he doesn’t so much play characters as wear costumes.

In addition, Hillcoat’s choice of soundtrack is often intrusive and wildly inappropriate, featuring a number of modern indie hits (a bluegrass rendition of The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat features) re-imagined in an extremely jarring, old-worldly fashion – reminding us all too often of Hillcoat’s video director past. Some moments are effective, but his selections predominately fail to maintain a coherent tone or feel.

Despite its high degree of gang-related violence and the extremely high pedigree of the majority of those involved, a softly conventional Hollywood feel permeates throughout Lawless, an oddly bland and flat crime saga from a usually confrontational, astute director.

The 65th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 16-27 May, 2012. For more of our Cannes 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.

John Bleasdale