Except for The Passion of the Christ, I can’t think of another movie that revels in blood and pain as much asLawless does. For once, every smash of the brass knuckles and every blast of the bullets reaps its harvest of gore and the camera lingers to pick up the writhing and groaning. And yet Lawless seems to be a little squeamish about exactly what happened to the captive heroine and what Guy Pearce did to Dane DeHaan except to kill him, which would hardly inspire so much fury in the world of Virginia hills during the moonshine days of Prohibition. It’s not for me to deny what claims to be a true story. There are aspects of the treatment that remain suspicious just the same.
Screenwriter Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat pack about as much gunfire and fisticuffs as a couple of hours can contain, and even manage a rather stupendous orange explosion with a mushroom shaped cloud emerging from it, but they don’t give us much in the way of character development. Pearce’s villain revenuer is about as foul in the beginning as he is in the end, Tom Hardy survives incredible injuries without psychological effect, Shia LeBeouf goes from initiated youth to hardened leader without much change of manner or expression, and even Jessica Chastain, who eventually says she’s had it and is going to move to town, doesn’t make clear whether she’s just sick of the recurrent slaughter, afraid of being killed herself, despairing of any kind of satisfactory life in what amounts to a battle zone, or disillusioned with the only company the hills offer her to keep. UnlikeWinter’s Bone, which is similar in setting, Lawless never gave me a sense of visiting a real foreign culture. It seemed Hollywood all the way. But it certainly provides violence and action, and I defy you to be bored.