Movie Review: Lawless
By Jayson Burns
I will be honest: I had no idea this movie existed until about a week ago. That being the case, I all but blindly walked into the movie theater only knowing my brother’s vague description of the plot. I really wasn’t expecting much from Lawless, maybe nothing more than “some movie I saw;” but to my pleasant surprise (and great discomfort in a few cases) I actually found some gems in this somewhat flawed film.
Taking place in Virginia during the Prohibition Era, Lawless follows the true story of the Bondurant brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBouf), who are just one out of many families running a moonshine business. Everything has been going fairly well for a time, with the local sheriffs turning a blind eye or actually buying from the bootleggers, until the government sends Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) to take control of the situation. Rakes soon has most of the bootleggers under his thumb through bribery and brute force until only the Bondurant’s remain. The brothers face tragedy after success after tragedy as they stand up against the invasive agent.
Since this movie follows multiple characters over a fairly long period of time, there’s quite a deal of story to cover. As such, Lawless suffers from a few points of bad pacing, with some important plot developments quickly glanced over with a monologue. There’s still a sizable amount that happens at a decent pace, however, and there was still a good sense of time. What I really liked about the film was its use of brutality alongside more beautiful moments. At first I was put off by seeing a romantic scene followed by a man being horribly tarred and feathered; but then I realized it worked. These men are in a dangerous business and, while they may have some quiet times in their lives, there’s more than enough room for tragedy.
There is a strong cast in this film and they all perform as they’re expected to. As the star, Shia LaBouf creates a protagonist who I wanted to root for despite his problems. Tom Hardy makes his character very likable even though he’s quiet and, at times, violent. Tom also slurs at times, making him harder to understand than when he was Bane. Jason Clarke’s character is more of a supporting role, but he fit in well enough; and Gary Oldman leaves an impression with his small role as a big time bootlegger. Seething with evilness, Guy Pearce plays a man who everyone will hate (for crying out loud, he shaves his eyebrows); though at times this comes off as over-the-top.
More than once, there were times in Lawless where I almost had to look away. Now, granted, I can be a bit squeamish, but pardon me if I don’t like to see a young man get pummeled with the stock of a shotgun. The violence all looks very convincing and counters the charming atmosphere nicely. I did have one problem with an explosion effect they used, which looked kind of fake, but was a minor distraction. The dialogue and characters were also written fairly well, with everyone acting how real people would act (which they should, since they’re based on real people).
Lawless served as a gratifying way to end my Saturday night. While some might be put off by the brutality in it (and rightfully so), the filmmakers and the cast managed to make it all worthwhile.