A “Lawless Heart” That Keeps on Beating
by Brandon Judell
As I read Ian McEwan’s quite marvelous “Atonement,” the critically acclaimed World War II novel that chronicles a young girl’s misinterpretation of what she saw outside her window, an error that destroys numerous lives, I was faced with a dilemma. I wanted to read on desperately and find out what occurred next, yet I dreaded turning to the next page in case the characters’ experienced new mishaps.
I experienced the same delicious sensation watching “Lawless Heart.” Directors/writers Neil Hunter and Tim Hunsinger, who both directed 1996’s “Boyfriends,” have fashioned here a sublime screenplay, one that’s already garnered top U.K. prizes from both the Evening Standard Film Awards and Best Independent Film Awards. The feature certainly brims over with the subtleties that a great novel would contain. A disdained scarf. A missing wine opener. Spilled sugar. An impenetrable coconut. These objects appear now and then, and would make T.S. Eliot smile approvingly. I believe he would label them “objective correlatives.” Symbols that lay bare the characters’ situations better than words could do.
But Hunter and Hunsinger are no slouches when it comes to dialogue. Pithy, vibrant, unmasking exchanges are scattered throughout. One character early on acknowledges: “When you asked if I was depressed, I was strangely flattered.”
“Because you think only interesting people are depressed?”
The film itself is a triptych, using the device much as “Pulp Fiction” and the undervalued “Go” did. Three views of the same events, told one after the other, each through the eyes of a different participant, all tied together by an unsentimental denouement.
The locale is a rural British seaside town. The connective tissue of all three parts is the lasting aura of Stuart, a homosexual restaurant owner, who has drowned. “Lawless Heart” begins at the frenetic party after his funeral.
Dan (Bill Nighy), is his comically self-absorbed, latently homophobic brother-in-law, who wants to cheat on his wife Judy (Elaine Haddington), but he doesn’t have the courage. “I suppose I have emotions,” he considers at one moment. He also notes, “As you get older, you lose the knack.”
Nick (Tom Hollander), is Stuart’s much younger lover, an innocent who finds it impossible to make demands on others, while kowtowing to all who make demands upon him. Going through the days in sort of a mourning trance, he feels he can only initiate a new life in London if he receives his lover’s estate. But Stuart left no will; thus Judy controls the purse strings.
Finally, there’s Tim (Doug Henshall), a 10-year-old boy in a grown man’s body. He just arrived penniless in town, not even knowing Stuart, his best friend, had died. He didn’t even know Stuart was gay. Hey, a lot can happen in eight years. By the way, does anyone have a spare room and a few thousand quid to loan Tim?
As the days tick by, Dan will be mistaken for a taxi driver and have the chance to receive oral sex from a floozy. Nick will be seduced by Charlie, a girl. And Tim will fall in love with a saleswoman and try to make her coconut curry. Will he ever be able to crack open the damn thing?
Stuart’s motto was “Go for it!” These three will have to learn how.
Flawlessly directed with first-class cinematography by Sean Bobbit (“Wonderland”), an astute score by Adrian Johnston (“The House of Mirth”), and understanding, estimable editing by Scott Thomas (“The Winter Guest”), what you really walk away with is immeasurable awe for the cast. This is sublime ensemble acting. Not a feeble moment. Not an unnecessary movement. Not a misspoken line.
“Lawless Heart” is arresting. It has the emotional wallop of a Mike Leigh offering and the acute intelligence of an early John Schlesinger effort. This is a film about learning how to seize the day. And this is a film that does just that.