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Movie review: Lawless

Updated on June 25, 2013

No other actor recently has been teetering on the edge of greatness more than our very own Tom Hardy. But despite one or two stand-out roles (most notably in 2008's Bronson), this 35 year old British actor has yet to confirm a position on Hollywood's A-list.

And his role here as moonshiner Forrest Bondurant is not likely to change his current not-quite-there status.

As you would expect during the prohibition era in the USA, getting your hands on a drink proved difficult. Not so for the brothers Forrest (Hardy), Jack (Shia LeBeouf) and Howard (Jason Clarke) Bondurant; they made a decent living making moonshine that went down a storm with the locals.

Unfortunately for them, their success is soon noticed by a number of authorities, including a new, no nonsense deputy (Guy Pearce) on the block. They're interested in taking a cut in their profitable business, but these propositions don't exactly appeal to the brothers. With the Bondurant's not prepared to play ball with the authorities, they soon find themselves in all kind of trouble.

The problem with The Lawless is an obvious one – it has pretensions above its station. Australian director John Hillcoat shot the film in a style that is reminiscent of Arthur Penn's 1967 Bonnie & Clyde, in an attempt to give it a quiet intensity visually. Unfortunately for Hillcoat, he doesn't pull it off, mainly due to a truly dull script and story. That's what you get for letting Nick Cave write it (yes that Nick Cave). </p>

His trio of male actors just don't have enough to do; they make illegal alcohol, and that's about it. To try and fill the film out a bit, a number of characters are thrown in to flesh the story out. One such character is Chicago gangster Floyd Banner, played by poor old Gary Oldman. Oldman's fleeting appearance is nothing more than a cameo for cameo's sake, as it adds nothing to the development of the characters or the flimsy story.

Then there are two female characters thrown into the mix, played by Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain who are blatantly on show to prevent the audience odeeing from all the testosterone on screen.

And then there's Hardy himself. If you struggled to understand a word he said in The Dark Knight Rises as Bane, then you will probably struggle again. Only this time his not encumbered by a mask, it's a Southern accent. It's great that he's really into his acting and all that, but really, is it too much for an audience to ask to actually be able to hear what his character has to say? If he carries on like this, his films will only be watchable on DVD where you can have the option of subtitles readily available for him.

On top of this, LeBeouf feels miscast. Despite the authentic costume, he still looks as if he should be being chased by robots in disguise. He's still not in the same acting league as heavyweights like Hardy and Pearce, and that doesn't look like changing any time soon.

Hillcoat, like some of his previous titles (namely The Proposition and The Road), is a purveyor of style over content. He likes to frame things nicely, and make everything look pretty on screen, but there's just not a decent story to hang it on. He may think he's making art, but he's not. He's really not. On this evidence he wants to be a Penn or a Ford Coppola, but he just hasn't got what it takes.

It's a shame as some of the action scenes are done well, but there just aren't nearly enough of them to keep your attention.

It really is nothing more than a one-off hill-billy version of Boardwalk Empire, with far less interesting characters.

As far as Hardy is concerned, it's yet another example of him being swayed by an opportunity to delve deep into a character, but sadly at the expense of everything else. He'll need to learn that if the rest of the script isn't up to much, no one will give two hoots about what he's doing on screen. And for someone who clearly wants to make it onto that elusive A-list, this is a lesson he's going to have to learn pretty darn quick, otherwise his career will languish way down the list.

3 booms

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