Saturday, September 1, 2012

Movie Review: "Lawless"

Sometimes you (or at least I) go into a movie not knowing what to expect. I hadn't heard much about Lawless save seeing the preview while at a movie last weekend, and interestingly enough, the crowd in that theater seemed fairly negative about the movie and its prospects. But buoyed by two fairly positive reviews and my admiration of several actors in the film, we decided to give it a try, and I'm really glad I did.

Prohibition is in full swing during the Great Depression, and the Bondurant brothers run a successful bootlegging operation in rural Franklin County, Virginia. The Bondurants, led by Forrest (Tom Hardy, brooding and powerful) and Howard (Jason Clarke), are believed to be invincible, because both have cheated death. Their youngest brother, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), wants to be taken seriously as a member of the operation, but his combination of cocky bravado, quick temper, and his lack of belief that he is tough, tends to get him into difficult situations his brothers must bail him out of.

Special Deputy Charles Rakes (a marvelously creepy Guy Pearce) arrives from Chicago determined to get a piece of all of the bootlegging operations in Franklin County, and eventually, all but the Bondurants give in. Which, of course, just makes Rakes angrier and more vindictive, and he sends more and more violent trouble their way. Which, of course, they are more than happy to meet head-on, in a tremendously bloody and violent scene.

When one of Jack's schemes succeeds, his cockiness grows, and he begins to court shy preacher's daughter Bertha Minnix (a luminous, if underused, Mia Wasikowska). And as you might imagine, it also gets him into trouble, which leads to the frenzied and violent climax of the movie. But even if the movie is somewhat predictable, the performances and the action lift it beyond the average.

The movie is based on a true story and a book written by one of the Bondurant's grandsons. It's tremendously well-acted—Pearce's character could have veered into almost comic territory in lesser hands; Hardy gives a strong performance as a man of few words but deeply burning strength and fury that is the antithesis of his portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises; and Jessica Chastain rises above the typical supportive female role, bringing nuance to her role. And Shia LaBeouf brought some of the same cocky, self-assuredness he demonstrated in the last Indiana Jones movie.

I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, but certainly wished a few things could have been different. Chastain's character remained a bit of an enigma throughout the film, and there were a few loose ends that were never tied up with regard to her. I can't help but wonder if Gary Oldman, who played a famed Chicago mobster, saw some of his scenes wind up on the cutting room floor, as his character almost seemed like an afterthought. And at times, I felt like the violence took one step too many toward gratuitousness.

This is certainly not a happy, lighthearted movie, but I was tremendously impressed with the job director John Hillcoat (The Road) did with giving the film a truly appropriate look and feel. I hope people see the film; I'm not sure if its being unrated will limit its audience. But it's definitely worth a watch.

1 comment:

  1. Great review Larry. Loved the cast, loved the action, and loved the look, but I just didn’t love the pace. Too slow at times and could have been sped up just a bit.