With his cerebral and physical western, The Proposition, director John Hillcoat had delivered an intriguing film, which was featuring holes. Filled with ellipses, his movie was roughly built on – sometimes clumsy and disjointed – narrative blocks. Those narrative gaps were symbolized by bullet holes through which the plot was piercing.

With Lawless, Mr. Hillcoat goes the opposite direction, this time making sure to fill any plot hole. And this is arguably where the weakness of this prohibition-era film lies. The movie centers on three fearless and glorious brothers who are ruling, unchallenged, over a clandestine alcohol business until the arrival of an FBI agent, which will brings chaos and violence.

The film is based on a script by Mr. Hillcoat’s long-time collaborator – and artist – Nick Cave who, contrary to his previous and strange work on The Proposition, offers here pretty traditional storytelling shaken at times by outburst of violence.

Fortunately, women bring a welcome soft touch to this brutal masculine universe. In the role of a former stripper aspiring to a better life, Jessica Chastain illuminates this anti Boardwalk Empire – The naturalistic setting of this film contrasts sharply with the show’s artificiality; John Ford’s protective shadow even seems to hang over the project: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend“. Mr. Hillcoat makes sure to film all the salient aspects of this reality. For example, the oldest brother walks for miles to a hospital after having been left for dead with his throat slit. At least, this is what is suggested to the spectator until we find out that his girlfriend actually gave him a ride. The filmmaker’s taste for ellipses is omnipresent here and this is what makes the strength of this contagious work, which builds on its legend until the end.

The cast is pretty strong from Shia Le Bœuf to Tom Hardy and the always surprising Guy Pearce, here in the role of a vicious agent. The only regret will remain Mr. Hillcoat’s almost formulaic and film school-like direction, while a few holes could have brought Lawless a step further by fulfilling our need for imagination.

Director: John Hillcoat – Actors: Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce – Running Time: 1:50 – Year: 2012 – Country: USA

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Sandrine Marques

Sandrine Marques

Sandrine is a French freelance journalist who lives in Paris and writes passionnally about cinema.
Sandrine Marques

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