The Films of John Hillcoat
Ghosts... of the Civil Dead
To Have & to Hold
The Proposition & The Road
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Lawless (October 5/12)
Based on a book by Matt Bondurant, Lawless follows a trio of Depression-era, bootlegging siblings (Shia LaBeouf's Jack, Jason Clarke's Howard, and Tom Hardy's Forrest) as they're forced to contend with the meddling interference of a slick new deputy (Guy Pearce's Charlie Rakes) - with the movie detailing the inevitable battle that breaks out between the brothers and the police. It's clear immediately that Lawless' most potent weapon is Hardy, as the actor delivers as mesmerizing and electrifying performance as one has come to expect - to such a degree that it is, at the outset, virtually impossible to wholeheartedly care about the film's myriad of other characters (ie one's interest dips significantly when the focus is taken off Hardy's Forrest). Filmmaker John Hillcoat, working from a script by Nick Cave, does an admittedly spectacular job of establishing the movie's 1920s landscape, with the movie's atmospheric visuals, combined with an eclectic supporting cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Noah Taylor, and Gary Oldman, going a long way towards compensating for the narrative's decidedly languid bent. And although Hillcoat has peppered the proceedings with a handful of standout sequences, Lawless' meandering sensibilities grow more and more problematic as time progresses - with the less-than-engrossing vibe exacerbated by an increased emphasis on Jack's hackneyed exploits (ie the character experiences a rise-and-fall arc that is, to put it mildly, somewhat familiar). A violent climax notwithstanding, Lawless subsequently peters out to a degree that's nothing short of incredible and there's ultimately little doubt that the movie, which never entirely adds up to much, comes off as an ambitious misfire. (A sporadically watchable misfire, to be sure, but a misfire nevertheless.)
An unqualified disaster, Triple 9 details the chaos that ensues as several criminals decide to execute a police officer as a diversion for their latest (and most ambitious) heist to date. It's clear fairly early on that Triple 9's success is continually impeded by its extremely (and unreasonably) dense narrative, as scripter Matt Cook offers up an impenetrable storyline that's compounded by an almost total lack of character development - with the movie's thoroughly talented cast left floundering in the confines of uniformly one-dimensional figures. There is, as a result, little doubt that one's ongoing efforts at embracing the material fall hopelessly flat from start to finish, and although filmmaker John Hillcoat offers up an admittedly engrossing mid-movie action sequence, Triple 9 otherwise progresses at a leaden pace that essentially (and effectively) highlights the various deficiencies contained within. It's worth noting, too, that one's efforts at following the labyrinthine plot are stymied by dialogue that's often impossible to comfortably discern, as Hillcoat seems to have directed the majority of his performers to mumble and grunt their way through the almost entirely expository screenplay. (This is especially true of Casey Affleck's marble-mouthed turn.) The anticlimactic (and predictably violent) final stretch isn't, of course, able to make even a portion of the impact Hillcoat has surely intended, and Triple 9 is one of the few films one can easily recall that might just have benefited from a longer running time (ie the story might've started to make sense with a little more room to breathe).