Messy, dirty, rough. 'Lawless' in Cannes...

Violent gangster thriller fails to liven up film festival

The Prohibition gangster thriller unveiled at Cannes yesterday was a strong draught yet not intoxicating enough to liven up what's so far been a sluggish Film Festival. Set in early 1930s Virginia, Lawless is as American as it gets, yet is a largely Australian undertaking, with a couple of major British names and a few from the US making up the numbers.

The Antipodeans in question are the director John Hillcoat and singer-songwriter-novelist Nick Cave, writing his second script for Hillcoat, after the outback Western The Proposition; he also contributed the bluegrass score. Alongside the Australian actors Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska and Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy represents the UK, playing the tough-as-nails leader of an Appalachian bootlegging clan, and Gary Oldman appears as a Chicago mobster.

The US stars are Shia LaBoeuf and Jessica Chastain, who's been an inescapable screen presence (The Help, Coriolanus, Take Shelter) since making a splash as a near-unknown in last year's Palme d'Or winner The Tree of Life.

Lawless is not likely to scoop a Palme – as hillbilly mobster movies go, it's hardly Bonnie and Clyde, which Hillcoat has confessed is a primary model. But, while critics here haven't been enamoured, Lawless stands to impress the fan-boy audience on the strength of its whole-hearted violence, which includes throat-slitting, castration and hot tar on a man's back – along with plentiful firing of Capone-vintage machine guns.

At the press conference – attended by most of the talent, bar Gary Oldman – LaBoeuf defended the film's brutality: "It's messy, it's dirty and it's realistic. It's not rehearsed like a ballet – it's rough round the edges." The content, Nick Cave added, came very much from the film's source, The Wettest County in the World, Matt Bondurant's fact-based novel about his bootlegger grandfather.

Cave admits the film took some liberties with the original material: "I don't think there's such a thing as a true story. It was the flavour of the book that took me. The classical love story and the excessive violence – those two coming together really titillates me. I'm not that interested in violence per se in movies. It's the way John Hillcoat deals with violence that's exciting and refreshing – it's brutal, it's all over very fast, it leaves a huge mess behind."

Cave also pointed out the film's present-day relevance: "This is a modern film in its way. Prohibition exists today, and it still fails epically – especially in the so-called War on Drugs." A heavily bearded Hardy agreed: "There's a good argument to say legalise drugs and a not-so-great argument for the opposite. My stance is, whatever floats your boat, just don't get caught."

In a fairly sober press conference, it was Cave who provided the liveliest moments.

Asked about getting older, he confessed: "My memory's gone and I have to use the thesaurus a lot." But his fire as a wild man of rock clearly hasn't dimmed. "He's a son of a bitch, this guy," he muttered audibly about a long-winded questioner.

Meanwhile, despite the signs being good – with a selection studded with major acting and directing names – the 65th Cannes Festival has felt like a damp squib so far, not helped by overcast skies and intermittent showers. One of the competition's most awaited films, Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, starring Marion Cotillard, wasn't quite the tour de force everyone hoped for after the French director's hit prison thriller, A Prophet. Audiences were divided over the lively but rambling Reality, by Matteo Garrone: an exuberant but barbed satire on reality TV, about a Neapolitan fishmonger driven mad by dreams of getting on to Italy's Big Brother.

The only really substantial competition film so far has been Beyond the Hills, by Romania's Cristian Mungiu, whose abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was a surprise Palme d'Or in 2007. This one too could conceivably win, but it wouldn't be a popular choice – at two and a half hours, it's a severe tragedy about two young women's grim experiences in a fanatical religious community.

Palme d'Or contenders?

Last week, I made the mistake of saying that Cannes 2012 would live on prestige alone even if half the films were duds. So far, more than a few have been just that. So what remains to save the Croisette's glory?

Quite a lot, fingers crossed. Rumour has it that Love, by Michael Haneke, inset – starring Isabelle Huppert as a woman tending to elderly parents – will be another of his masterpieces.

Hotly awaited too is the comeback of French enfant terrible Leos Carax, whose Holy Motors is a parallel-lives story with a bizarre cast that includes Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue. Twilight kids Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart step into daylight – respectively in David Cronenberg's hotly tipped Cosmopolis, and in Walter Salles's adaptation of Kerouac's On the Road. Then there's shiny-faced Zac Efron in US thriller The Paperboy, with Nicole Kidman.

Other A-listers include Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly), and Matthew McConaughey and Reece Witherspoon in Mud, a drama by little-known US director Jeff Nichols, whose past form (notably Take Shelter) raises hopes that his third film will be something special.

Jonathan Romney

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas