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“Lawless” – Early Review (SO-SO POSITIVE)

August 29, 2012

“Lawless” is basically the short version of “Boardwalk Empire”, if there’s anyway to describe it simply, it would be that analogy. John Hillcoat has a great project in his hands, much like “The Road”, he HAS the right project, but it doesn’t really flourish as a whole movie. While the cast is pitch-perfect, from Tom Hardy’s grunts/growls to Shia LaBeouf’s maturing acting mannerisms, “Lawless” doesn’t fall apart completely, but it’s by no means the perfect crime/gangster movie I was anticipating.

Set in 1931, Franklin, VA, during the height of the Prohibition, three moonshine bootlegging brothers; Forrest, Jack, and Howard Bondurant (Hardy, LaBeouf, & Jason Clarke) run their small hillbillie town with an iron fist, by getting the message across that they’re an immortal, indestructible family, and nothing & no one can stop them. Until, a special deputy from Chicago, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), comes in to town, ready to break some bones, and abolish these wilderness running moonshiners. In time when gangsters are of legends, one such that Jack looks up named Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), Jack gets the inspiration and drive he needs to be the big shot, and take the moonshining operation to all new heights, but what will it cost him?

Like I said, the acting is top quality here, especially Hardy & Pearce. Their characters are so distinct and so descriptive that it’s hard not to be mezmerized by their performances. Guy Pearce’s role is by far one of the sleeziest, scumiest, blood sucking bad guys to hit the silver screen in recent memory. It’s a performance I feel that could be Oscar worth for Best Supporting Actor. LaBeouf, Hardy, and Clarke play off well between one another, their brother comradery is quite apparent and clear. Gary Oldman as the gangster Floyd Banner was one of the small highlights of the film, he has a scene where he knocks it out for the audience, that they couldn’t help but cheer for him. It’s a shame that Oldman is in the movie for a total of 10 minutes, not even that. I wanted more Gary! We were robbed by his lack of presence, but you can argue the story really isn’t about him, although he is one of the key driven aspects that starts the story going in the direction it needs to be going.

However my biggest problem with the movie was the handling of the two pairs of love interests between Tom Hardy/Jessica Chastain (LOVE HER) & Shia LaBeouf/Mia Wasikowska. It didn’t really fit, I mean…look, I know this is a true story, that their characters do end up with those women in real life, but there was barely any emotion to grab the attention of the viewer. Hardy & Chastain’s romance was mostly silent and awkward, and LaBeouf & Wasikowska’s was just weird and uncomfortable. The love interest that had my attention at the very most was between Shia & Mia. There could’ve been more to it, but I think Hillcoat just didn’t know what to do there.

The story itself, while fascinating, it jumps quickly here and there, and doesn’t have a continious narrative flow, for a two hour run time, it felt very quick. I felt like there were important historical aspects missing in the Bondurant family history, it’s as if Hillcoat only wanted to show the most fucked up portions of their life. The brothers weren’t humanized quite well, which makes the last five minutes of the so called ‘happy ending’ feel misplaced and unexpected. Needless to say, the movie knows how to entertain with it’s violence, and lets face it, when you hear about a moonshine, 1930’s, crime story, you expect some brutality, and director John Hillcoat does NOT hold back. Oh, and for you Jessica Chastain fans out there, yes…she does get a little nakkie in the film, that right there is worth the matinee ticket.

I can recommend this movie for a matinee ticket price; it’s entertaining, the actors are doing their best work here, it’s nice to see Shia in something more realistic for a change, and I’m excited to see where his career will finally take that has nothing to do with aliens or transforming robots.

GRADE: B-

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