Receding from the gritty existentialism of The Proposition and the ambitious, if undercooked fatalism in The Road, John Hillcoat opts for thorough conventionality with Lawless, which is easily the director's least satisfying film to date. Routinely scripted by Nick Cave, the depression-era setting serves as backdrop to the bootlegging Bondurant gang, a Franklin County, Virginia trio of brothers that "don't lay down for nobody." Most convincing in this regard is Forrest (Tom Hardy, still packing his Bane weight), whose mumbled, gruff dialogue provides direct contrast to the dandy diction of Chicago-based Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce). Otherwise, Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the runt (at twenty-six, LaBeouf needs to abandon these types of roles), trying to earn the respect of his Forrest and Howard (Jason Clarke) while chasing town naif Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) and doing fun things, like peeking through his rear-view mirror while she tries on a purty dress he just done bought for her. Perhaps what Lawless does best is suggest the disconnect between sex and violence with the Bondurant boys - when dancer-turned-waitress/bookeeper Maggie (Jessica Chastain) disrobes to seduce a bed-bound Forrest, he shrinks at the thought, reserved rather than forward. The primal drive towards sustenance and survival lacks the intimacy needed for sex - brute force alone cannot sustain pleasure - and inevitably brings pain and death, rather than perpetual life. These intimations resonate only so far, however, since Hillcoat has difficulty balancing character and circumstance; moreover, Lawless lacks a compositional panache necessary for transcending the material's tried-and-true roots. The climactic showdown, especially, cannot establish a convincing sense of place, space, and import (not to mention putting characters in "sure death" situations, then letting them survive). Lawless might not be gutless, but it's certainly toothless.