Biblical brutalities, slit throats and castration... Just another day at work for Old Testament-al rocker/writer Nick Cave, whose latest buddy-up with director John Hillcoat echoes their western The Proposition (2005) but struggles to rule with the same untamed force.
Criminal honour dominates its core, with Matt Bondurant’s book The Wettest County In The World the source for this tale of Prohibition-era bootlegging brothers the Bondurants.
Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) are Virginia hillbillies making hay while the moonshine’s good, until city folks crash the party.
Echoing Casino, Lawlessplays as the sympathetic study of a self-contained criminal world before law and big business muscle in... It’s a familiar world then, but a bluegrass score and DoP Benoit Delhomme’s wood-scapes give it vivid life.
So do the lead actors: Hardy’s machismo, Gary Oldman’s gang boss and Guy Pearce’s psycho-cop all prove that ‘for broke’ is the way to go. So it’s a pity the smaller-than-life LaBeouf’s moral arc and strained expression diminish the potency.
With the underwritten women (Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska) and the plot running thin, what’s left tastes faintly diluted: Cave and Hillcoat use violence and vengeance like pros, but they don’t find enough fresh blood for a lingering kick.