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Mia Wasikowska’s Bertha, an Amish girl who catches Jack’s eye, is another female to have an impact, albeit of a different kind. “The innocence and sweetness of their first love was a great contrast to the brutality and complexity of the mature Forrest and Maggie relationship,” he says.

Humour, too, is a new addition to the Hillcoat canon. Anyone who’s seen The Road will know respite of any kind was in short supply. However, Lawless’s tonal complexity gave Hillcoat the opportunity to branch out.

“Despite the public perception of Nick, he has one of the best senses of humour of anyone I have ever come across, and Tom was very audacious in trying to tease out more humour to Forrest.” One scene, in which a dose of harsh realism is dealt to him by Maggie, is particularly memorable, for his monosyllabic shrugging and grunting response.

This is a Hillcoat film, though, and the lighter moments are counterbalanced with sporadic but exceptionally harsh violence. The Bondurants mete out a furious punishment on urchins intent on harming them or their business, and Guy Pearce’s Rakes is especially nasty. Hillcoat remains unapologetic, citing a responsibility to portray life as it is.

“I prefer to make violence the disturbing, scary thing it is,” he says. “To see the physical toll, whether it’s a bullet, knife or a fist, and then the emotional aftermath. For me the key is to make it very messy and chaotic.”

With Lawless, Hillcoat is hoping for a smoother route to the screen, after the infamous wrangling that saw The Road sit idle on the studio shelf as the suits pondered how to sell an end-of-the-world tale lacking CGI-spectacle.

“I am always anxious at this stage. I am very happy with the film, but the marketing campaign can be unpredictable. I have had a rocky road with my past work on that front,” he reveals, seemingly unaware of the pun.

While Lawless is sure to find deserved commercial and critical success, it seems to have left an impression on Hillcoat that may shape his future work.

“Nick and I are now looking for a story that has a female lead – we’ve had our fill of alpha males!” Prisoner Cell Block H, may we suggest?

Lawless is out September 7 through Momentum Pictures


Photos: Getty


Kisses amongst the violence: Lawless director John Hillcoat on his new gangster-western film
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