John Hillcoat's new film, Lawless, premiered at Cannes this week, with a star cast including Shia Labeouf, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hardy, and co-written by Nicolas Cage, the director's longtime friend and collaborator in Australia.
While not my kind of film -- a gangster Western, with heads sliced open, et cetera -- Lawless has beautiful evocative sets: dusty yellow saloons and green forests, with Jessica Chastain's periwinkle blue dress making a nice contrast to the earth tones. The film recreates the lawless atmosphere of the Prohibition period, telling the story of three bootlegging brothers who try to maintain their business against a frightening evil deputy, played by Guy Pearce.
It was a delight to meet the people behind the film at Cannes in the "Acajou room" of the Majestic hotel.
Musician/writer Nick Cave leaned forward affably, sunglasses casually clipped to his shirt, and confided that it was relatively easy to write the screenplay; easier than writing music, in fact: "Writing music is like running around with a butterfly net; you can never quite grasp it."
In contrast, screenplays seem clear for him: a matter of character and plot.
Besides, shifting from music to storytelling, he noted, was no big jump: "After all, all my songs are about 'seeing': a narrator who stands back and sees these stories happening."
As for the violence in Hillcoat's movie, he gestured eagerly, one hand glittering with two large rings:
I am interested in our capacity for violence. We live civilized lives most of the time, but inside each us is the potential for infinite violence and untold evil. To use cinema to show an extreme situation and watch the violence erupt is fantastic. I personally don't have any problem with violence at all, I am not afraid of it.
Indeed, the character Cave identified most with in his screenplay was the vicious deputy, Rake. "He is based on a side of myself that I try to keep as repressed as possible."
He paused -- and laughed. " But maybe you should ask my wife!"
The pretty Mia Wasikowska took a seat, as opposite to violence as could be. Winsome and shy in her red jacket and black skirt, she rested her hands -- with clear finger-polish on the nails -- gently in her lap. Every so often, she broke into a sweet giggle, or said, in an Australian murmur, "Yeah..."
"It's true, watching the film last night for the first time I realized that my character is the female counterpoint to this male world of violence. That's fine with me. I liked working on this movie. John Hillcoat is very gentle."
"So it's okay that it's a male world?"
She smiled, all dimples. "Yes, it's okay."
Tom Hardy, who plays one of the macho brothers, interjected boisterously to defend his character Forrest as a good man.
"He is a matriarch, a mother, his character is about carefulness, about taking risk. With courage comes great fear. The reward of patience is more patience. That is great. My character is free -- pure."
As for Hardy's own stance on manliness, suffice to look at his arms and chest. The lively, bearded man was wearing many bands on one arm, and on his khaki T-shirt was written, "Help For Heroes."
I wear this for men in the military. Each wristband represents a military organization I support: the Marines, an SOS unit, parachutists. I have lots of friends in the military, service men abroad. The reason they are fighting does not matter; what matters are the individual people who are fighting, for whatever cause.
Hardy continued with gusto, his hand bent behind him on his white plastic chair. "I feel survivor guilt for not being one of the warriors. Although art also comes from a dark place, there is always somebody getting hurt in reality. People are giving body parts and their lives..."
He concluded confidently: "It is time for a man to assume being a man."
Next to him, Guy Pearce calmly drank a glass of water, silent in his navy blue starched shirt, smiling quietly, with a three day-beard, his sunglasses folded in his lap.
"Am I talking too much?" said Hardy.
"Oh no," said Pearce. "I have nothing to say."
Although he did. "My own character [Rake] comes from a dark place of difficulty and anger. He despises a past we don't see in the film, that he projects onto others."
What about the qualities of his male character?
Qualities of my character? The qualities of the character are kind of despicable. He concentrates on his vanity and his ego. He is driven to do a job well. Consequently he is despised the minute he arrives in town. He is a fish out of water. But he thinks the water he arrives at is not even worth to piss in.