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The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
There's nothing to care about and the villains are the only characters worth watching here. Lawless plods along to a meager finish.
The similarities between director John Hillcoat
and writer Nick Cave
's last collaboration, The Proposition
, and their latest, Lawless
, are legion. It's a wonder why they bothered making Lawless
at all. Both films are westerns about groups of brothers whose lives are doomed by the relentless violence their lifestyles invite. While The Proposition
is a throwback to the mythic morality tales of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, Lawless
isn't as layered. There's an underlying serenity about the film that fails to humanize its characters. We never get to know the Bondurant brothers.
Based on The Wettest County in the World
by Matt Bondurant, Lawless
follows the author's real-life grandfather and grand-uncles' lives as bootleggers in depression-era Virginia. The film focuses on the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy, which was a series of violent events and deaths caused by a lawful crackdown on the region's hugely profitable moonshine racket. The Bondurant brothers created an illegal cottage industry that made them infamous and the targets of vengeful lawmen and competitors.
The film begins with voice-over by the youngest Bondurant, Jack (Shia LaBeouf
), explaining his two elder brothers' invincibility. Forrest (Tom Hardy
) survived a flu that "wiped out the entire state" including their parents, and Howard (Jason Clarke
) was the lone survivor when his entire battalion drowned. Jack, on the other hand, is the family wimp, but the family business is about to force him to grow up fast.
LaBeouf continues to get handed major Hollywood roles despite his frustrating inability to play anything but the same person again and again. He's easily one of the least-interesting actors working today, pure vanilla, and Lawless
suffers because the screenplay is his story. He's a Jewish kid from L.A. and it's very hard to buy his pseudo-southern accent in a period setting.
Forrest is the Bondurants leader and his refusal to pay more bribes to local law makes the family marked men. They continue to operate under the old way of doing things, and soon Forrest is waylaid and Howard drinks too much, so its up to Jack to keep the family afloat. He and his gimpy buddy Cricket (Dane DeHaan
), who doubles as a genius, build their own distillery in a secret location and are soon raking it in with the help of gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman
). But, a new local lawman named Charlie Rakes makes it his mission to destroy the Bondurants and he'll stop at nothing to do so. Guy Pearce
shines as Rakes, a dapper snake whose perfectly parted hair may be his Marcellus Wallace band-aid. The man is evil incarnate and Pearce relishes the role. He beats Jack mercilessly in one scene and will sacrifice anything to fill his blood lust. It's the kind of role that can carry a film, but unfortunately, we aren't treated to enough of Pearce. He's the best thing about Lawless
in an abbreviated role.
Oldman also steals every scene he's in but his screen time is minimal. Instead of devoting more time to his character, the script follows Jack as he woos the local preacher's daughter (Mia Wasikowska
) in a subplot that leads nowhere. To her credit, Wasikowska is excellent, torn between her allegiance to her father and her forbidden interest in the young outlaw. Her eyes hide a daring that makes her the film's most complex character.
On the other hand, Jessica Chastain
is given nothing to work with as Forrest's love interest, Maggie, a city beauty looking to escape the fast life in a quiet town. She hovers in the background and is barely noticeable. Hardy's also hard to figure as the stone-faced eldest Bondurant. It's the first character I've seen him play that I didn't care if he was on-screen or not. His utter lack of personality is obtuse, and he sets the tone for the brothers' relationship. None of them get along and they're brothers in name only. They don't seem to care about each other, and thus, neither do we. The Proposition
didn't have that problem. The Burns brothers were emotional extroverts and charismatic. The Bondurants fail to instill empathy so their fate is wholly uninteresting. Lawless
just can't seem to put it all together.
See more photos of Mia Wasikowska here: