Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lawless (2012) - Movie Review

I guess with the popularity of Boardwalk Empire we shouldn't be surprised if we see a trend of prohibition-era films.

This review might be a little spoilerific, so be warned.

Lawless is about the Bondurant brothers, Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Jack (Shia LeBeouf), who were moonshine bootleggers during the prohibition. The story is based on the book The Wettest County in The World by one of their descendants, Matt Bondurant. I've never heard of the Bondurant Brothers, so they could have been based off the Bing Bong Brothers for all I knew.

Right away, I can tell you that this movie suffered from not deciding on what type of movie it was going to be.  It never focuses on one character or element enough, and even the tone of the movie is all over the place. Sometimes it's brutally violent, then it's funny, and at other times you aren't sure if you should be laughing.

Forrest, um, I mean Bondurant, while being a little unclear as to whether or not he's the eldest Bondurant, is clearly the boss of them.  At first you think this is going to be a bad ass movie about him.  He's kicking ass and telling the new lawman in town (played by a 'dastardly' Guy Pearce) to piss off, but then something happens to him.  This gives Shia the Beef an opportunity to prove to his brothers he has what it takes.  Then, you might think this turns into a revenge flick, but The Beef basically makes a bunch of moonshine runs with his pal, Cricket (Dane Dehaan), laughing all the way.  He's got a little more business sense than his brother, so he's making them more money, but not as much common sense, as he's just spending money all over the place.

While Forrest recovers, both he and Jack have their own romances, but neither added anything to the central plot.  It's shame because I really like both Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, but they weren't give much to do, especially with Wasikowska, and it felt like both characters where thrown in there just to give the main characters something to do during their down time between moonshine runs.

Gary Oldman shows up for early in the film, and you get a glimpse of what appeared to be another bad ass character, but that's all you get, a glimpse.  He's gone before you even get a chance to blink.

Even though many characters are underused and underwritten, the strength of the film are the performances.  I've been critical of Shia the Beef, but I thought his performance worked very well in contrast to the tougher nature of his older brothers.  I did think it was odd that his main characteristic seemed to be that he got his ass kicked in nearly every scene though.  Tom Hardy was a badass, but for the second time this summer, he plays another character that speaks with a voice that's difficult to understand at times.  Also, it seemed they missed another opportunity with his character, as the fable of Forrest Bondurant was that he couldn't be killed, but it's treated a little more than a gag and kind of glossed over.

Guy Pearce's character, Charlie Rakes, is this silly, over-the-top villain.  It seemed like a caricature of a villian from an old cartoon.  The only thing he was missing was a twirly mustache and cigarette holder.  Pearce appeared to have a lot of fun with the character though, and I thought it was a good performance.  Pearce is one of those actors that I think can do pretty much anything, but hasn't quite gotten that one killer role that he'll always be remembered for.  I hope he gets that chance.

Directed by John Hillcoat, who's directed much darker movies like The Road and The Proposition. I hoped this was going to be similar in tone to those movies, but it simply wasn't.  I never felt any real tension or like the characters were in any real danger.  He teamed up again with writer/musician Nick Cave. The screenplay is extremely straightforward and seems like something you could have seen on TV.  Lawless doesn't take any risks or do anything you haven't already seen before.

What couldn't have been on TV though were the visuals.  There are some really bloody, violent moments and there's also lots of nudity (thank you, Jessica Chastain).  It's a well-made movie as far as how it looks.  The sets are great and the setting felt authentic, but again, there's something in the details that just felt odd to me.

Speaking of which, here's one of the attention to details the bugged me.  Early on, Jack gets worked over pretty hard by Rakes.  He punches him several times on the left side of his face pretty hard, but in the subsequent scenes, he's face is bruised on the right side.  There's also very little swelling.  It was funny to me, because while Jack was getting his ass kicked in the scene I would have bet you any amount of the money that Jack's face wasn't going to look all that that bad after the beating he just took.  When a movie blows a detail like that, it kind of takes me out of the movie.   

Lawless is still an entertaining film, but I can't help but feel a little disappointed in it.  With the cast and all the window dressing, it had the potential to be something special, but it wasn't greater than the sum of it's parts.  It's suffers too much from lack of focus and inconsistent tone that makes it hard to completely get into, and at times it wastes its extremely talented cast.  I'm right on the edge between a matinee and rental on this one.  If you're really interesting in seeing this, then I'd say to check it out on matinee, but if you're on the fence, save it for rental.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Great review Erik. Loved the cast, loved the action, and loved the look, but I just didn’t love the pace. Too slow at times and could have been sped up just a bit.

    1. Thanks, Dan! This was a weird one. Everything on the surface seemed to be great. Good cast, good action, nice look and well-made film, but somehow the final product didn't add up.