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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

When lawmen become immoral

It's astounding how the humble hardship of humanity at its worst can ignite exuberant greed and foster enraged cruelty.In Lawless, John Hillcoat's consummate portrait of Depression-stricken America and the blossoming of hoodlums at its most profound, the untamed and bloodthirsty pack mentality of wild animals in humans is terrifying and heartbreaking. Revealing the animal that lurks within and showing how bloodlust can drown humanness, Lawless is not a violent film, although it perceptively exposes the fragile nature of brutality and its fateful consequences.
Hillcoat's skilfully crafted and meticulously nuanced masterwork illuminates Nick Cave's powerful screenplay and brilliantly uses Cave's music to underscore the emotional journey and true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: three bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia.

A lasting and meaningful impression

This is what the art of film is all about, where word, images, sound and craftsmanship serve a story that leaves a lasting and meaningful impression. Add to this the mind-blowing performances of Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke as three brothers caught up in a crazy world that spins out of control, well supported by the marvellous Jessica Chastain as the abused and fragile heroine, Mia Wasikowska as an innocent young girl who experiences first love, and the impressive Dane DeHaan as the idealistic and rebellious young dreamer; and you are in for an unforgettable experience. And if this is not enough, Guy Pearce delivers a tour de force as the corrupt, sadistic Chicago lawman who is determined to break the Bondurant clan, with Gary Oldman in top form as Chicago gangster Floyd Banner, who is both a foe and a friend to the Bondurants.

Hillcoat is an actor's director and allows his first-rate cast to breathe life into the emotional human drama and conflicting dramatic action. Pearce's character refers to the brothers and their kind as "mountain men" who "have Indian blood that makes them animalistic". It's terrific how Hillcoat brings this to the surface in a very natural and unimposing way; in one background scene we witness two cockerels having a showdown in their natural habitat.

The struggle for supremacy and power

Lawless shows that when the law becomes reckless and ruthless, irrational behaviour provokes unlawful actions; it's a war zone where life or death becomes meaningless in the struggle for supremacy and power.

The vigourous but subdued violence in Lawless might explode and run amuck, but unlike Tarantino's reckless Django Unchained, Hillcoat never exploits his subject matter or becomes self-indulgent; he is a director who understand the loss of humanity as he brilliantly displayed in Ghosts Of The Civil Dead (his first feature film, which he co-wrote and spent three years researching maximum security prisons in America and Australia), The Road (based on Cormac McCarthy's best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel showing a post-apocalyptic adventure in which people are pushed to the worst and the best that they are capable of), and The Proposition, an Australian Western set in remote outback Australia.

It is films like Lawless and Gangster Squad that showcase a rebirth of violence on the big screen; where the consequences of violence in society and the impact it has on humanity are thoughtfully explored. As one of the characters states in Lawless: "It's not violence that sets people apart. People control the fear and without the control, we're as good as dead." Reflecting the times we live in, in which a destitute society has to fight for survival, the world in Lawless is no different; intimidation evokes anger and provokes rash violence.

Poetry in motion

Hillcoat's Lawless is poetry in motion; you can breathe the air of the world the characters live and feel the texture of their clothing; it's a visceral experience that evokes compassion and empathy.

Lawless shows the shocking and brutal face of human nature at its most corrupt, where humanity is tested to the extreme. It's a futile world in which violence and corruption become a language and the voice of ruthless lawmen; a mode of communicating obscured feelings and expressing rebellious anger. At the heart of this brutal world lies a soulful romance that cleanses the blood off the bodies. When leaving the cinema, it's not only the characters that we take home with us, but we will regard a world of violence with empathy.

Lawless poignantly questions if we can remain human in a lawless world, and what it takes to be human in a world without order and justice. Make sure to see Lawless, it is a film you will treasure.

Behind the scenes

The Wettest County In The World, on which Lawless is based, began when Matt Bondurant decided to write a fictional account of the very picaresque exploits of his paternal grandfather Jack and grand-uncles Forrest and Howard. Though his novel is inspired by true events, it isn't entirely factual. As he writes in the author's note: "The basics of this story are drawn from various family stories and anecdotes, newspaper headlines and articles and court transcripts ... However, this historical information does not help us fully understand the central players in this story, at least in terms of their situation or what their thoughts were; all involved are now deceased and little record exists. There are no letters and my grandfather and his brothers did not keep diaries. My task in writing this book was to fill in the blank spaces of known record. There are family stories - and these memories and stories are vague and often specious at best, mixed with several decades of rumour, gossip and myth. My intention was to reach the truth that lies beyond the poorly recorded and understood world of actualities."


About Daniel Dercksen

As a freelance film and theatre journalist for more than 30 years, published playwright and creator of the independent training initiative The Writing Studio, Daniel Dercksen received the number one spot for most popular lifestyle contributor for 2012, 2014 and 2015, and 2nd spot in 2016 on