Lawless is an extremely well-crafted movie. Every element to its production showcases the time and effort put into the decisions by director John Hillcoat and his crew. The obvious examples being the sets and costumes, the beautiful cinematography by Benoit Delhomme, the editing and pace, and especially the soundtrack by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave that includes modern bluegrass and country music by Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson. The acting is also very on-point with the film boasting an impressive cast (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan, and Guy Pearce). The film is very well done, but it unfortunately isn't anything all that different from any other gangster or western experience.
I suppose I imparted too much of my own overly high expectations. Hillcoat's first film The Proposition was a western based in Australia with a script and soundtrack by Cave. The film had an ethereal quality to it that made the movie feel like something completely different from what anyone might've come to expect. I certainly hold the film in high regard and I considered it to almost "further the discussion." What I suppose I mean is that if film can be regarded as discourse, then such a seemingly unique film is a high artistic achievement in being able to break what felt like new ground in a 100+ year artform, thus allowing for more discussion by movie-goers and filmmakers to consider when presented with watching or telling a story. Hillcoat's second film The Road, isn't as good as Lawless, but it also just about falls short of achieving its true potential. Part of this may be the difficulty in adapting Cormac McCarthy's original material. There is so much to be found in the novel, what else could the film bring forth?
When I heard that Hillcoat's third film would be a combination of the gangster and western movie genre as bootleggers find themselves contending with the law and the mob in the woods of Virginia, I was hoping this would be something as inspiring as The Proposition. It's certainly a good movie, but I suppose I just didn't get as much out of the film as I had hoped. The craft to the depicted violence is noticeable, but the idea of that violence only begetting more violence was handled much better in recent films such as Looper or Seven Psychopaths. The characters are compelling, but they are typical such as the over-the-top villain (Pearce), the emotionally distant lone-wolf who finds companionship (Hardy), and the boy who just wants to become his own man and impress those around him by living up to their expectations (Labeouf).
Certain storylines fall flat, but what a well-handled tapestry that Hillcoat creates around the content to make it not all feel totally ineffectual.