Movie review: 'Lawless Heart’

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

A coconut, a gaudy scarf and a stolen corkscrew tie plot threads together in unexpected ways in the wry cinematic triumph "Lawless Heart."

Like spokes on a wheel, three stories branch out from a central incident: the funeral of Stuart, gay restaurateur in the Essex countryside, whose sudden death sends friends and family into emotional tailspins.

When Stuart's brother-in-law Dan (Bill Nighy) meets Corrine, an enchanting French flower arranger, he's led to ponder his marriage and life choices. Enter Tim (Douglas Henshall), a hippie prodigal son who returns after eight years abroad to a lukewarm reception from his family and a possible budding romance. Nick, Stuart's lover and business partner, waits for the outcome of Stuart's estate and befriends Charlie (Sukie Smith), a damaged, spunky woman who makes him rethink everything.

While each character is faced with the complications of love and loss, "Lawless Heart" is ultimately about perspective-how each of us sees the world, and how our preoccupation with that view can blind us to the experience of others.

Written and directed by Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger, "Lawless Heart" showcases a unique storytelling architecture, playing with the sticky intricacies of point-of-view, and the film medium itself. At the beginning of each story arc, we're brought back to Stuart's funeral, to the same shot of Dan trying to light a cigarette, each time from a slightly different vantage point, then spinning off in different directions.

Superbly crafted and insightfully written, Hunter and Hunsinger manage to make small gestures meaningful, wringing more out of a single scene than most directors manage in 10 minutes of film. Example: When Stuart's sister comes to visit Nick with a cake, the very next scene shows her smoking in the bathroom, cake resting on her knees, visibly shaken at the sight of Nick and Charlie together.

Sexual politics, especially the mutual ignorance of the gay and straight worlds, are illuminated by intimate, funny moments between characters. When Dan asks Nick if he was faithful in his relationship with Stuart, it's an awkward, sweet exchange-a meeting of the minds and comedy of manners.

The film's true power lies, however, in its accounting of events from multiple viewpoints. The stories, and many of their elements and even props (the coconut, the scarf) all are linked-serving to remind us of the lives surrounding our own. The filmmakers reveal how people do not revolve around a single vantage point-but rather, how lives orbit one another, and sometimes collide. In the end, "Lawless Heart" is so well crafted, so original, that each overlapping scene swells with new life and interpretation.

"Lawless Heart"
Written and directed by Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger; photographed by Sean Bobbit; edited by Scott Thomas; production design by Lynne Whiteread; produced by Martin Pope. A First Look Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:42. MPAA rating: R (for strong sexuality/nudity and language).
Dan.....Bill Nighy
Nick.....Tom Hollander
Tim.....Douglas Henshall
Corinne.....Clémentine Célarié

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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