Lawless (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
1Sep/125

Lawless (2012)

Tom Hardy in Lawless

Tom Hardy in LawlessLawless is a movie that on paper is something I should have loved.  The film had gangsters, violence, great actors, and a unique director in John Hillcoat.  The problem lies in the fact that for everything this film did well, there was a thing that it was something pushed me away.

Based on the book The Wettest County in the World,  Lawless tells the tale of the three Bondurant Brothers in Franklin County Virginia.  This mountain region of Virginia was the hotbed of all moonshining  during Prohibition and the kings of this trade were Howard (Jason Clarke),who played the oldest brother and the “muscle”, Forrest (Tom Hardy), who was the middle brother and heart and soul of the operation, and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) the baby brother and the weak link in the family.  Their operation is threatened when some of the local law tries to shake down the brothers and sticks special agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) on them to either break them down or just get rid of them.  Of course there are also love interests for the two leads that do nothing but look pretty and be worried when the script dictates it.

Shia LeBeouf

His face just is so punchable in this film it is unbelievable.

Lets get the ugly out of the way and talk about what doesn’t work.  Easily the biggest problem with the film is Jack, Shia LeBeouf’s performance.  I am not a person who hates LeBeouf and I don’t blame him for The Transformers or Indiana Jones problems because those issues start with the creative teams behind them.  With saying that, let me remark that I don’t think I have been annoyed with a performance as much in a movie sense Adrien Brody in The Village.  Jack is the weak brother who is not good at violence or being physically intimidating.  This is not a deal breaker in the movie because this is a tried and true staple of this type of film.  The weak one has to use his brains and other attributes to overcome and win the day, but in this film Jack HAS NO POSITIVE TRAITS.  Through out the movie he walk blindly into one problem after another and his direct actions results in deaths, maiming and destruction.  On top of being incredibly stupid he also has a raging ego and doesn’t feel bad about his actions and mopes about not being appreciated or trusted.  Jack is hit in the face a lot in this film yet it never feels like enough, I do believe that if Howard and Forrest punched him in the nose everytime they saw him the two would have been totally justified. I don’t know if it was the way the character was written, the performance of LeBeouf or a combination of the two but having an egotistical asshole as your hero is a big misstep.

Another issue in the film was it felt less of a movie and more of a lot of good scenes strung together with the least amount of story.  Lawless never feels like it is building steam towards the end of the film, it just lurches about.  The film introduces many interesting characters and ideas that never go anywhere.  Jessica Chastain, one of the most interesting actresses right now, is given nothing to do in the movie but get beat up by the bad guys, look at Forrest with love and walk down the hall topless (I must admit, I didn’t mind that last one). It felt like the movie wanted to do more with her but never give her anything to do or even a more interesting back story than she danced in Chicago.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t even the most squandered person in the film, Gary Oldman  as gangster Floyd Banner pops in and out of this film so quickly and was such an interesting character that I only wished we could follow him around more and get rid of Shia’s 5th scene where he gets scared of a weapon being pointed in his face.  How do you cast Gary Oldman and give him a tommy gun and use him so little?

Gary Oldman in Lawless

Like the humming bird, the elusive Gary Oldman flits in and out of this movie in a blink of an eye.

Lawless had these two great actors in Chastain and Oldman and did not use them to near their potential but where the movie does shine is how it uses Tom Hardy.   Hardy might not have the amount of screen time and his dialogue mainly consists of grunts and noises but when he is on screen it is impossible to look anywhere else.  This role, along with Warrior, Inception and Bronson really show that Hardy is one of the most charismatic actors working right now.  The man might have 40 lines of dialogue in the film but there is no doubt that he commands the film.  I would go even further and say that although I liked Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises, I think he would have been better in the film if he were able to play him like Forrest where he is a quiet brute with intelligence.

Hardy isn’t the only one to shine in the film; I was also very entertained by Guy Pearce as the very off Special Agent Rakes.  Pearce with his costume freshly pressed and his hear greased down plays a man who is afraid to get physically dirty but who is morally filthy.   The film follows many of the beats of the typical gangster picture but Rakes was a type of character that hasn’t been seen much before.  Finally, the character that brings much needed heart to the movie is Cricket played by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle.) Cricket is the smarter, friendlier “little brother” of the Bondurant clan and he is the only character the audience ever likes.  I will say it now, DeHaan is an actor to look out for in the future because this and his awesome performance in Chronicle shows me that he is just getting started with his career.

Jessica Chastian in Lawless

She might only be window dressing but at least she is pretty window dressing.

The main question is Lawless worth seeing and the answer is probably.  While it is frustrating and could have been so much more there is enough good in the film that a typical moviegoer won’t leave the theater angry.  I am hopeful that Hillcoat will make another film like this soon with Tom Hardy in the lead role, and if that does happen I hope it is Shia free.

Posted by Ryan

Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I love Gary Oldman. I’ll probably go see this just to catch the momentary glimpse of him.

  2. The movie is not bad and Gary Oldman is fun in his few minutes that it would probably be worth watching for that.

  3. Good review Ryan. This flick had a bit of fun with itself and I think most of that credit goes to the cast who never seemed to put in a half-assed performance. Wish there was more of Gary Oldman, but at least some is better than none.

  4. ugh. leave it up to shia to bring the whole movie down


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