Movie Review: Lawless
Aug 31, 2012 / 5:00 pm
I've always had an affinity for all things set in the 1920's and 1930's. Over the years I've seen a plethora of films and TV shows dealing with this particular period in history. I've come to romanticize this time-period because of such things like the fact that women looked like proper ladies in their dresses, men looked dashing wearing their pin striped suits and hats and the cars were incredible examples of master craftsmanship. Even the gangsters of this era exuded style and panache. Upon seeing the new film Lawless however, my idealistic vision of this decade became somewhat scarred and abated. You see, the film depicts a time that is dirty, gritty and ultra-violent and certainly not something to wax poetic about.
"Lawless" is based on "The Wettest County in the World," Matt Bondurant's somewhat fictional tale of his grandfather, Jack, and his brothers, moonshine bootleggers who kept Franklin County, Virginia supplied with their liquor during Prohibition. The eldest, Howard (Jason Clarke), is a volatile and frequently inebriated WW1 veteran. The middle brother, Forrest (Tom Hardy), is the quiet leader of both the family and the business. And then there's Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest who's eager to prove his worth. Despite shying away from violence, Jack is the most ambitious and therefore ultimately the most dangerous.
One day the brothers find that their operation is being threatened when a corrupt Chicago special deputy named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes to town to try and shut them down, unless of course they pay him protection money. When the Bondurants refuse to pay, Rakes declares war on the boys and proceeds to use various nasty methods to get what he wants. He is one sick and slimy SOB.
Directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road), Lawless is an extremely hard boiled drama that depicts the violence at that time as both unflinching and very brutal. It elicited a few gasps from the audience during some of the bloody moments of heightened intensity. The film is shot beautifully and he does a good job of capturing the authenticity of the era. Unfortunately the pacing in the first half is a bit of an issue as it takes awhile to get going. I wasn't fully invested in the story until about the half way point, but then it really takes off and I was riveted the rest of the way.
The performances are quite superb all around. Tom Hardy exudes a quiet intensity that you sense can boil over into rage any second if provoked. He speaks with a thick accent and mumbles a lot as well but you get the gist of what he's saying even when he just grunts. Shia LaBeouf does a fine job with the most important role in the picture. He's now showing more maturity and range as an actor. Also featured in the cast in smaller roles are Gary Oldman, seriously underutilized as Floyd Banner, a Chicago gangster who goes into business distributing the Bondurants' liquor, Jessica Chastain as Maggie, a former "dancer" who works at the Bondurant gas station/restaurant and ends up falling in love with Forrest, Mia Wasikowska as Bertha, the daughter of a preacher whom Jack takes a shine to and Dane DeHaan (best known for his break-out role earlier this year in Chronicle) as Cricket, Jack's best friend and a mechanical wiz who helps the brothers set up moonshine stills. He was one of my favourite characters in the film.
Pacing issues aside, I found Lawless to be a compelling and worthy entry into the gangster genre. It showcases flawed and interesting individuals who engage in hard hitting violence, but also have the capacity for emotional depth and humanity. There is some real style and substance to this picture and I would recommend it to anyone who likes their dramas to be gritty and hard hitting.
Seek this one out folks!
I give Lawless an 8 out of 10.
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