Weekend Muvie Revue
How soon is too soon to call a director Iconic? And how soon after that can I explain that iconic doesn’t mean great? The answers are ‘after only three movies’ and ‘immediately’. John Hillcoat has only directed three films, as long as your definition of film is the same as mine – must include famous people. But I’m still pretty comfortable saying that he’s one of the most iconic directors currently working. John Hillcoat’s probably reading this in his big dumb Australian bungalow getting a big head, but he should just simmer the fuck down already. Being iconic isn’t the same as being good. It helps, but it’s not even close to the only thing you need.
Steven Spielberg is an extremely iconic director. Not every movie he makes is great – or even good – but each one is intrinsically appealing. He has a definite sense of what stories and themes resonate with people and how deeply. For instance, War Horse is probably a very average movie. But the idea of War Horse is incredible. It’s a movie you’d love to hear more about, whether or not you actually want to see it. Basically some of his cakes taste amazing and some taste like shit, but they all look like the greatest tasting cake you’ll ever eat. John Hillcoat’s sense of the iconic, so far, rivals Spielbergs. Seriously, his breakout film was a fucking Australian Western. I can’t even say those two words together without cumming kangaroos.
Then, mid-kangacum you tell me it’s about a brother trying to kill his older brother to save the life of his younger brother? I am officially out of control at this point. If I’m Mr. Oscar I’m already handing you Oscars in big giant wheelbarrows. And that’s kind of the problem. Movie expectation is inversely proportional to movie enjoyment. If you get me all hyped up with these intensely appealing themes and motifs, the pressure on you to deliver gets ramped way the fuck up. If your cake looks delicious, it better be delicious.
So let’s look at Lawless. It’s about a family of bootleggers fighting currupt police officials and trying to make it big for themselves in the prohibition era. More specifically, it’s about a younger brother trying to step out of the shadow of his legendary family and do all that for himself. These are themes that deal with concepts integral to being an American, a brother, a person, pretty much everything. John Hillcoat knows that, and that’s why he wanted to make this movie. The problem is that he might know what people want to see just as well as Spielberg, but he’s nowhere near as good at giving it to them.
One of the biggest complaints people have with Spielberg is that he tends to tug a little too obviously on heartstrings. He finds something he knows is an emotional moment and then he shoves it way too hard in your face. Hillcoat isn’t even good enough to have that problem. I don’t think at this point he’s a talented enough director to tug at anything except by accident. He can set up an amazing cast of characters in a great environment but then he just sort of wades through it. I mean, a character gets raped in this movie. That’s pretty heavy fucking moment. And it really has no impact on the emotional feel of the movie. I wish I could’ve had my heartstrings tugged on, because that’s still better than having to sit through all the discomfort of a rape scene and have it be for nothing.
Pete Holmes said that when he started comedy he knew what killing sounded like, he just didn’t have the words yet. I think that’s the point Hillcoat is at. He knows exactly what a great movie looks like, he just can’t get there himself yet. Unlike Pete Holmes, I’m not really sure at this point that he ever will kill it. I don’t get any sense from him that he’s unhappy with his ability to storytell or create, so there’s a good chance he’ll just keep making average movies about great things. And each time I watch one and see no improvement, I’m less excited for the next.
I don’t want to say Lawless is a waste. The cast is amazing even if they’re underused, and Shia LaBeouf is in fact not a terrible actor, just an average one. But Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce both give typically amazing performances, especially considering what they had to work with. I would like to see Hillcoat feel a little more pressure to improve and develop as a director so more amazing performances don’t get stuck in average movies. As of right now, that doesn’t look like the case. Expect more amazing looking, average tasting cakes from this guy.
*** (out of ****)
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