Lawless seeks to string us along for most of two hours. We're continuously hoodwinked by the talented cast and the attractive production values into believing that we're on the path towards excellence, ingenuity, surprise. The biggest surprise, for me, was how far I got until I realised that there were no surprises on offer here. The screenplay, by Nick Cave, aims for profundity amidst banal conventionality; the result is both misguided and misleading. Perhaps the fault lies more with director John Hillcoat, though, who has proven, since The Proposition, that, as a director, he is only as capable as the talent he has around him. He is less a director than a facilitator. As the story stumbles ever onwards, eventually reaching an ending that manages to disappoint already disappointing material, boxes are routinely ticked - characters assume the roles we expect them to, events transpire as Hollywood logic dictates, there's a little humour (not especially successful) and a little nudity, and some violence. The violence is a device in itself, it seems, which is juvenile and dissatisfying. Little is proven in even the most artfully-constructed shootouts, never mind such an inconclusive one as Hillcoat manufactures here. Of the cast, Tom Hardy is betrayed by an unimaginative script, Jessica Chastain dutifully plays a stock character, underdeveloped because we can fill in the gaps ourselves, she's so familiar (how we're even supposed to believe characters like this any more baffles me - they were dated in the '50s), dolled up in costumes which look remarkably fresh for backwoods Virginia (I hate it when movie costumes look like they've never been worn before, it makes no sense), Dane DeHaan redeems himself somewhat after the risible Chronicle, and Guy Pearce does his best drama school drop-out impression in a heinous performance. It's the worst performance of the year. It's the worst performance in years.