Given Nick Cave’s known preferences for Southern tales of despair and bloody violence, it should be no surprise that Lawless has both in spades. What it also has is an ambition at being a high quality gangster movie. While it doesn’t quite get there it still offers a heck of a ride as Cave teams up yet again with director John Hillcoat.
Lawless follows three brothers whose business is making and selling moonshine in a prohibition era Virginia. When lead brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) gets injured Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest and most shy brother, sees an opening. But the government is cracking down on their business and Chicago gangsters and feds, specifically the slimy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) are moving into the small town. Jack is struggling to prove himself to his family and a girl (Mia Wasikowska) from a conservative religious family that he’s sweet on.
Lawless is all about atmosphere. Much of the film is dark or seen through heavy filters not unlike how the characters are portrayed. It’s also packed with big names. Admittedly the film isn’t as gruesome as the one might think given Cave’s last film (The Prohibition). In fact, it hits just the right amounts of thrills and romance. The problem is there’s just something extra missing to get the film to exactly where it wants to be.