Genre(s): Drama, Western, Crime
Director(s): John Hillcoat
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
The film Lawless has a name that suits it perfectly; none of the characters really have a care for the law, it’s only one person who really fights against the bootleggers and he himself doesn’t adhere to the law, and there’s more violence in this film than most of the movies released this summer. While the title fits the movie perfectly in the sense of the story, it also fits the attitude Nick Cave (yes, the musician) and John Hillcoat must have had when adapting the novel The Wettest County in the World to the screen. Lawless is longer than it should be, coasts on its all-star cast (one of which is completely wasted in the film), and enters the realm of ridiculous in how it handles logic.
The movie watches the Bondurant brothers, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard (Jason Clarke), as their bootlegging operation is threatened by a new deputy officer from Chicago, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce). What is seen afterwards is a series of violent acts and confrontations between Rakes and the Bondurants that are effective in displaying the brutal nature of both sets of characters and their acting abilities. Hardy and Pearce really stand out, with Hardy playing the tough leader of the family, and Pearce being a really creepy yet violent officer. LaBeouf has always been hit and miss in his career, but this film is definitely one of his better roles, despite his character being a young and reckless kid who just wants to be like his brothers, or more specifically, to be looked at as a man.
The large problems come from incredible talent being characters that are almost completely wasted. Mia Wasikowska plays the daughter of a priest who Jack is in love with, but she basically just ends up being a character who does nothing and adds nothing besides stating Jack’s manliness. The other actor that is wasted is Gary Oldman who I was really excited to see in this film. He even has an incredible introduction that sticks with you, as well as with Jack. But as Floyd Banner, he never really gets to showcase any actual use to the plot besides giving the Bondurants money for moonshine and helping Forrest out with a note. All in all, he maybe gets 5 minutes of screen time. In actuality, there are other characters that could have given the note to Forrest who would have also had motive to do so, and though Banner plays as an example of what Jack perceives manliness and maturity to be, Jack could have simply looked up to Forrest as a role model and seen this.
Why this waste of talent is such a problem is because it shows how truly expansive this movie attempted to be, but in the end, the only moments that are enticing are the action sequences and conversations that involve Forrest or Detective Rakes. That being said, there are very violent sequences that give this movie an incredibly dark tone, most of which are handled very well but lead to illogical conclusions. The Bondurants are known for being immortal and the movie definitely tries to portray that a few times, however it’s not logical in any way. There are many ways to harm someone without them dying quickly, but instead of that, the movie goes for ways in which they should have died, but instead live on. This is a minor complaint though, the film is clearly having fun with the immortality myth, and I will not fault it for that.
The biggest of all problems though is the fact that there is an epilogue that counters the overall dark tone of the film, featuring narration from LaBeouf that could have easily been cut to add to not completely undercut the film’s tone (narration occurs in both the beginning and end, but is probably the cheapest of storytelling mechanics), and doesn’t really serve any purpose but to show the immortality of the Bondurants and how their life has turned out. I’d argue that the film isn’t about the Bondurants and a brotherly bond, but rather to show the importance of maturity and manliness to Jack who ultimately serves as the main character in the film. The script could have had many scenes cut including a romance with Forrest that doesn’t really serve anything but to make the film more ‘Hollywood-feeling’. Instead of spelling it out, the movie could have handled it in a more ambiguous, and likely more effective manner so as to cut down the length. Besides, they give Howard Bondurant a relationship out of nowhere in the end, so at least having the foundations for one for Forrest would have been sufficient if they were going to do the epilogue anyways.
Regardless of my complaints, the film is so well-acted by Guy Pearce and Tom Hardy that it is hard not to recommend it for that alone. On top of that, there are some very memorable sequences that have a massive impact on the viewer. The film also culminates into an awesome ending right before the epilogue that showcases the western side of Lawless. You probably won’t get bored watching the movie because it strings you along with actors you love and violent scenes that you won’t soon forget, but you can tell the ambition in this film was greater from the beginning and just was never executed to its fullest extent by the end of the film.