Welcome to the Mild, Mild West

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Western films are few and far between at the cinema these days. As the iconic grandfather figure is wont to say, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Yet, director John Hillcoat continues to try his hand at the genre with his latest film, “Lawless.” Based on the book “The Wettest County in the World,” “Lawless” tells the story of the three Bondurant brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) who bootleg moonshine in Franklin County, Virginia during the days of Prohibition. But the law steps in, as Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) arrives from Chicago with an eye for destroying the Bondurant brothers by any means necessary.

“Lawless” fails to live up the promise of its title, which references the freewheeling nature of the moonshine racket and to the corruption of the law enforcement. The reputation of Hillcoat’s previous films— “The Proposition” and “The Road”— suggest that “Lawless” might take the rules of the genre into its own hands. He doesn’t.

Instead, the film is inert and bland. Much of this lifelessness can be attributed to LaBeouf, a subpar actor whose wide-eyed stares betray a vapid soul. Hardy, too, is disappointing. He plays Forrest, a character with a hulking, animalistic physicality, but is over-reliant on grunting and brooding, evidencing a thin written character.

As violence escalates in “Lawless,” the gore and gruesome detail increases as well. Yet, the film lacks an authentic sense of urgency and threat. The narrative wants a compelling climax to complement its content.

Perhaps most disappointing is that the intriguing characters and actors are sidelined. LaBeouf as Jack fills the majority of screen time, but it is Jessica Chastain as Maggie Beauford who steals every scene she is in, leaving the viewer wanting more. In addition, while Gary Oldman appears in the marketing for “Lawless,” his role as Floyd Banner is basically a glorified cameo. His presence and influence loom over the film and over Jack, but his screen time is delegated to three thrilling yet irrelevant scenes.

“Lawless” is aimless. A great number of films have forged compelling narratives by asking the audience to empathize with anti-heroes. These films, like “Goodfellas” for instance, succeed by crafting multi-layered characters and sending them into scenarios in which they must prove to the audience just how badly they desire their goal. But in “Lawless,” Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave give us only outlaws to empathize with because the law is even worse. This leaves Pearce overacting to cartoonish heights. With no one to empathize with, no cause to root for, there is no emotional payoff at the ending.