Violent side

Singer-turned-screenwriter Nick Cave shows his love for blood, brutality in the film ‘Lawless’

LOS ANGELES – Bursting with violence and laced with period atmosphere, the Depression-era tale “Lawless” centers on three adult brothers who take up arms to protect their bootlegging trade from corrupt authorities and mobsters. The brothers are played by Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke, and the film features – perhaps more notably – a high body count.

And if there’s one thing screenwriter Nick Cave likes, it’s some old-fashioned blood and brutality.

“To me, violence is the dominant principle of the last century,” Cave said in a phone interview. “It’s something we’re all involved with or implicated in. Sometimes I’m surprised there isn’t more of it in entertainment.”

Cave, 54, is primarily known as a musician, most famously with the genre-busting band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, a group born in London in 1984.

More than most in the entertainment world, Cave has skirted the line between mainstream acceptance and punkish iconoclasm, moonlighting in multiple areas. He’s published two novels and was one of a handful of contributors to the script of a 1988 prison drama called “Ghosts … of the Civil Dead,” in which he acted as well.

That film was directed by Cave’s friend and fellow Australian John Hillcoat, who also made “Lawless.” Hillcoat has been nudging Cave toward a more serious screenwriting career for several years. About a decade ago, Hillcoat asked him to write an Australian Western. “I thought it was a terrible idea for a movie,” Cave recalled.

But Hillcoat eventually persuaded him, and the result was 2005’s “The Proposition.”

Several years ago, Cave signed up for “Lawless” because of Hillcoat’s involvement and because he was enthralled by the quality of the prose in the hybrid memoir-novel, “The Wettest County in the World,” on which the film is based.

The book was written by Matt Bondurant, a descendant of the people who inspired the characters in “Lawless.” Cave said he thought the narrative spoke to “a story of survival that’s in all of us.”

Cave did run into back-and-forth with financiers, a process the writer describes as bumpier than his go-round on “The Proposition.” It all seemed to take its toll on the screenwriter.

“I don’t mind artistic pain. It’s all the repetition I find painful,” Cave said. Yet he continues to work in the field, and for the first time is considering screenwriting work on movies directed by people other than Hillcoat.

It’s hardly the only contradiction for Cave, who’s a married father of twin boys but still pens macabre lyrics. Though his songs have appeared in such commercial concoctions as “Dumb & Dumber” and “Shrek 2,” he expresses a disdain for the studio world.

“I don’t think Hollywood makes many good films anymore,” he said. “How many directors can you really trust to have an artistic vision, not a corporate vision or a watered-down communal one?”

Then there’s this: Cave writes violent movies – “Lawless” is rated R in part for “strong bloody violence,” and it’s a movie more interested in the mechanics than the morality of brutal survival – even though he believes that there’s a connection between screen violence and real-world savagery.

Asked about the relationship between media and the shootings at a “Dark Knight Rises” screening at a Colorado multiplex last month, he said, “If beautiful movies can influence you to go out and hug your children, then we have to be honest and say that other movies can inspire you to do bad things.”

As for his own interest in writing violent films, he said it would continue – but only as a means to an end.

“A rock musician’s career is short-lived. To extend it you need to do other things to keep yourself fresh,” Cave said. “Writing screenplays makes me a better musician because it clears my head. After writing a movie, I go running back to music as fast as I can.”

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