Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan, Gary Oldman, Chris McGarry, Tim Tolin, Lew Temple, Marcus Hester, Bill Camp, Alex Van, Noah Taylor
Written by: Nick Cave, based on a book by Matt Bondurant
Directed by: John Hillcoat
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 115
Date: 05/19/2012
IMDB

Lawless (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Moonshine Kingdom

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Singer/musician Nick Cave has recently turned in striking work as a screenwriter and composer.

The brooding crooner seems drawn mostly to Westerns, with their cowboys and loners. Notable are John Hillcoat's The Proposition and Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford -- as well as Hillcoat's The Road.

Now he teams up with director Hillcoat once again, for a take on the Western's second cousin: the gangster film.

But whereas Cave's Western work inspired new ideas and new directions, Lawless isn't really much more than a dusting off of some old ones.

Lawless tells the story of the Bondurant brothers, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard (Jason Clarke), all 1930s-era moonshiners in dusty, rural Franklin, Virginia.

Jack, with help from his misfit pal Cricket (Dane DeHaan), builds the moonshine business into an industry. Like Scarface and many other gangsters before him, Jack becomes high on cash, clothes, cars, and power.

But the brothers cross a perfumed, big city lawman, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), as well as just about everyone else in town.

The movie adds "girlfriend" parts for Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain -- the former a preacher's daughter and the latter a city girl with a dark past -- that don't amount to much more than decoration.

Likewise, though Pearce puts a great deal of work into his villainous Rakes -- complete with a bizarre hair part -- he's more cartoonish than threatening.

Only Gary Oldman, as a legendary gangster, brings the right tone to the movie, but his part only encompasses a few scenes.

The movie seems both too long and too choppy, as if the filmmakers excised tiny, but important, details while trying for a larger, more epic feel.

It foregoes a potentially brisk, exciting pace, settling instead for plodding seriousness.

Additionally, perhaps because of Tom Hardy's unique presence (also seen in The Dark Knight Rises), the wise, stoic, tough Forrest feels like the center of the story. But he eventually cedes the spotlight to the naïve, arrogant, and overall less appealing Jack.

If Lawless had made the leap into artistic greatness, like Cave's earlier Westerns did, it could have been forgiven any number of odd or foolish choices. But as it stands, it's closer to regular genre film, and on that level it merely has to deliver the goods. It doesn't quite.

In other words, it's like bad moonshine. It has some appeal and gets the job done, but it could have been better.

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