Armond White: Weinstein’s “Lawless” Presents U.S. History as Torture Porn

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film, Arts Our Town, Arts West Side Spirit, Film, Our Town, Our Town Downtown, West Side Spirit.


Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain in Lawless. Via City Arts.

Harvey Weinstein called for a summit meeting on movie violence soon after the Dark Knight Rises massacre. It hasn’t happened yet but Harvey’s word becomes cultural law. So, instead, The Weinstein Company this week releases John Hillcoat’s Lawless, the most promiscuously violent movie since The Dark Knight Rises. If you go to see Lawless, duck.

About the three Bondurant brothers of Virginia who were moonshine runners opposing corrupt Feds during Prohibition, Lawless (which premiered at Cannes months before the Aurora catastrophe) defies concerns about movie carnage by showing off an array of ultra-violence: a high body count, several punched-bloody faces, numerous Tommy gun shootouts, rapes, throat slitting, even a detailed tar-and-feathering. This fake folk tale, recalling the history of violent Americana, combines the period nostalgia of Western and gangster sagas with the extreme ghoulishness of a horror flick.

Lawless contradicts Weinstein’s stated concern for the Colorado-Batman slaughter. The film’s acquisition and distribution follows the Weinstein Company’s usual procedure. As Weinstein said on July 26 “It‘s a question that I wrestle with all the time. I‘ve been involved with violent movies, and then I’ve also said at a certain point, ‘I can‘t take it anymore. Please cut it.’ You know, you’ve got to respect the filmmaker and it’s really a tough issue….I think as filmmakers, we should sit down–the Marty Scorseses, the Quentin Tarantinos, and hopefully all of us who deal in violence in movies–and discuss our role in that.”

It must pain Lawless’ director John Hillcoat, that he wasn’t included in the rarefied company of Weinstein’s short-listed violence-meisters. Hillcoat has worked at shaping a career of misanthropy, ferocity and perversion ever since his nihilistic western The Proposition and his apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road. His movies are not meant to be fun. He literalizes the violence described in the murder ballad folk tunes favored by musician Nick Cave who wrote the screenplay for Lawless based on Matt Bondurant’s fictional account of family history The Wettest County in the World. Hillcoat has directed several Cave music videos and his feature films extended Cave’s casual fascination with death and violence.

That’s the problem with Lawless: it’s casual about Prohibition’s bloody history, Hillcoat’s relentless display of ruthless behavior and scary hostility exceeds concern with social accuracy, familial empathy–and the effect of violent sensationalism on audiences. Like the makers of gruesome horror-core movies and post-9/11 nihilistic dramas, Hillcoat pushes the shock of violence, pretending a basic expression of mankind’s cruelty.

To read the full review at City Arts click here.

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