Ever have one of those days where you just want to be alone and not deal with people? I recently had such a day and opted to retreat to the dark confines of my local AMC movie theater. I had been putting off seeing a movie that I had actually been quiet excited about for some time—Lawless.
The film, which was directed John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) is a blend of blended crime/western drama and is based off the novel The Wettest County in the World, which tells the real-life story of three Bondurant Brothers and their bootlegging business. As IMDb explains: “Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits.”
The subject matter certainly appealed to me, but the solid cast was also a major draw. It’s been a big year for Tom Hardy, who played Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and Tuck in This Means War, and Lawless was his latest outing as he played the rough and tumble Forrest Bondurant; meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf played brother Jack while Jason Clarke tackled Howard. Throw is a supporting cast that included Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Dane DeHaan and Gary Oldman—well, let’s just say it doesn’t get much better than that.
I had high expectations for Lawless, and it put it simply they were not met. The movie just wasn’t put together as well as I thought it would be. The bootlegging story was intriguing, but it was littered with side stories such as Forrest’s romance with Chastain’s Maggie Beauford, and Jack’s with Mia Wasikowska’s Bertha Minnix. Blended in are storylines concerning the bootlegging business, corrupt law enforcement and pressure from the big city players. These storylines weren’t necessarily bad, they were just hard to properly flesh out in the movie’s 116-minute run time. Each trotted along, but none were ever taken to the next level. At times the movie was slow, which is normally a good tactic in building up to something big, but like I said, it never shifted gears to the next level.
As far as the performances, they were the film's strength. I was impressed, as usual, with Hardy, and LaBeouf did a decent job. Clarke was the middle brother and least featured, but he did a good job with his time on screen. With that said, the really impressive performances were the supporting roles, with one exception that I talk about below.
Before I get to that, I’m compelled to give credit to a few of the actors. Pearce was superb as corrupt agent Charlie Rakes, who proved a menacing villain. What’s more, he was barely recognizable in character, which I believe is a testament to an actor’s ability. On the same note, DeHann, who I raved about in my review of Chronicle, was great as Cricket Pate. After seeing Lawless, I’m even more convinced that DeHaan has a very bright future in Hollywood as his talent is unsurpassed. The ladies, Chastain and Wasikowska, also did a satisfactory job, and I found the latter’s alabaster-china-doll look very appealing.
The real disappointment in Lawless’ casting was the underutilization of Oldman. He is an actor of the highest order, but his character was only in the film for a few minutes. Hardy and Oldman worked together in The Dark Knight Rises and Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy, and it was almost as if Oldman took the role as a favor—no real commitment, no real development. Very disappointing.
From what I understand, Lawless was shutdown at one point, so production wasn’t exactly smooth, and for me it showed in the final product. The film isn’t terrible, but it didn’t live up to its potential. It’s worth a Netflix/Redbox rental, but I wouldn’t recommend it for theaters. On a side note, if you’re interested in the true story behind the film, I suggest you check out this article in The Daily Beast from one of Jack Bondurant’s grandchildren.
Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 55%