PUBLISHED: 09:24 07 September 2012
Lawless is the kind of film where characters talk about their “Vear-here-cools” and say “sheet” when they are vexed. It’s an all-in cowboy/gangster film combo based on the true story of the Bondurant Brothers, hillbilly bootleggers in the backwoods around Chicago.
They are fighting a brutal conflict during Prohibition with a corrupt special deputy who wants a cut of their liquor running earnings.
It’s a piece of pure Americana, delivered by a collection of Australians, Brits and pampered, perfumed big city folk who ride the jalopies, swig back the hooch and button up their waistcoats with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of London tourists putting on policemen’s helmets or cramming into red telephone boxes for photos.
At the heart of the film is a thespian tug of war between Guy Pearce and Tom Hardy as the major figures on either side of the conflict.
Pearce is going all-in as the sneering superior lawman; he looks like a cross between Edward VIII in The King’s Speech and Bob Geldof in Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
At the other end of the rope, Hardy is burrowing down into himself, restricting himself to grunts, cautious sideways glances and stumbled menaces, all the time huddling inside his big cardigan like a teenage girl trying to cover up a growth spurt.
While one is acting up a storm, the other is acting in a storm, and scattered about in the space between them the rest of the name cast play a variety of sore thumbs.
Shia LeBeouf, playing the youngest of Bondurants who wants to prove he is tough enough to do his bit in the family business, looks like a Marty McFly who has been whizzed back from the future for an adventure holiday.
Australian director Hillcoat once made a splendid outback western called The Proposition but he flatlined Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and gets precious little life out of what should be a cracking little film.
It is visually flat and crucially lacking in energy, leaving the performers painfully exposed which emphasises its lack of authenticity. It is like an Am-Dram Peckinpah film.
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman
Length: 116 mins