Watch the Promising Trailer for John Hillcoat’s Star-Studded Lawless

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
April 25 2012 6:59 PM

Trailer Critic: Lawless

Lawless_still_LaBeouf_Hardy
Bootlegger brothers Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) and Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) in Lawless.

Still from the trailer for John Hillcoat's Lawless.

Among the heavy-hitters who star in Lawless are Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hardy, and Guy Pearce. So it’s a bit disappointing to realize that the star of the film is Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf isn’t a terrible actor, but as a bad-boy bootlegger he’s the least convincing part of the first trailer for this gangster Western.

Lawless is not to be confused with the forthcoming Terrence Malick movie of the same name. Of course, nobody who watches the trailer above will make that mistake. Indeed, it’s so loud and over-edited that it nearly pounds everything promising about this movie into an unrecognizable pulp. No image—and there are some pretty stunning ones, including a dust storm looming on the edge of town, and a creepy Guy Pearce character with no eyebrows—is allowed to linger longer than a second. Even more distracting: Several characters’ introductions are mangled by a cheap black-and-white simulation of the Vertigo effect. On the soundtrack even the flash of a camera hits with the force of a gunshot—or would, anyway, if we hadn’t already heard the same sound effect so many times before.

If you’re able to tune out the editing—and perhaps LaBeouf’s casting—you’ll glimpse what could be great and grisly gourmet popcorn. Lawless is based on Matt Bondurant’s acclaimed historical novel The Wettest County in the World, about three brothers who made a living distilling illegal moonshine in Virginia. That novel was noted for the liveliness with which it “depict[ed] gore and guts”—making it seem a perfect match for The Proposition and The Road director John Hillcoat. The screenplay was also adapted with the help of rocker and Hillcoat collaborator Nick Cave, who also scored the film—two more intriguing signs.

Lawless is due out in August, a month that seems to suit the not-quite-a-summer-flick, not-quite-Oscar-bait tone we’re getting from this trailer. Before then it will screen at Cannes, up against Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, among other films. As long as the editing of the movie doesn’t match the editing of this trailer—and gives more room for the cast and the cinematography to stretch out—it could just be a worthy competitor.

Grade: B-

Previously from the Trailer Critic
Magic Mike
Total Recall
To Rome with Love
Dark Shadows
On the Road
Frankenweenie

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.