Posted by: GregMo Roberts Source:Killer Reviews
In John Hillcoat’s Lawless, actors Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy play brothers (Jack and Forrest Bondurant) in a bootlegging gang in Franklin County, Virginia during the U.S. prohibition years. The brother’s have a lucrative business going, that is until crooked special deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce) appears looking for a cut of the brothers’ profits. Rakes is as persistent as the Bondurant are stubborn and the lack of compromise by either side results in escalating tension and violence that soon spreads through the county and even as far as a hard-lined Chicago gangster named Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman).
John Hillcoat was the director of last year’s The Road starring Viggo Mortensen and the western The Proposition (that also starred Guy Pearce). He has a knack for having the screen ooze with the atmosphere of a film’s setting and he is at his best with Lawless. Everything from the sets to the clothes to the dirt and filth of the late 1930’s backwoods is presented on screen in lavish style expertly representing the era.
Lawless also represents a superior class of talent and acting chops. Tom Hardy continues to chew scenery in every film that provides him a spotlight and Guy Pearce is good enough to at least have him join conversations for a Best Supporting Actor nomination towards year’s end. Even Shia LaBeouf shows some talent. It is safe to argue that LaBeouf has never been better. But when his previous accomplishments have him a household name for swinging on vines with monkeys (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) or dodging CGI created robots (Transformers), it isn’t hard to impress above your previous resume line items.
Wasted in the film are any female supporting roles, namely Jesssica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska who play the two love interests for Forrest and Jack respectively. Neither has a tremendous amount to do in the film and there is so little chemistry between each of the couples that they would have been better serviced hitting the cutting room floor.
Gary Oldman’s part is another underwritten character that gets hardly enough screen time that you could look down at your popcorn bucket and back up and not miss him completely.
There is some bloody violence in Lawless. Tommy guns fire, people get their throats slashed and others get their privates cut off. These moments of extreme bloodletting help coat over the more dramatic moments of the film that just don’t gel as seamlessly as they could have. In fact, for seemingly long stretches of running time, the story plods along without anything to engross an audience’s interest. Especially the Jack/Bertha romance that seems a distraction towards the core plot - almost if added from another movie.
Stranger still was a narration that only begins during the last third of the film. It was as if the director wanted to hit the ‘Fast-Forward’ button but could only do such by quickly explaining situations via Jack’s voice-over.
Much was anticipated for Lawless prior to its release. Between a competent cast and a director that has a proven track record, early prognosticators were hoping that some award hardware may be polished in anticipation. But we are guessing that those involved with Lawless don’t need to empty out room in their trophy cases. Lawless was a good film, but failed to rise to the level that we are sure the ‘true story’ was based on.