Movie Review: Lawless
Despite an opening scene with a trio of young boys shooting a pig, and a sequence that follows showing the before and after of gang shootings, Lawless, a prohibition-era film set in Virginia about a group of bootlegging brothers, should make you laugh – a lot.
The Bondurant Brothers (Howard the drunk, Forrest the grunter, and Jack the baby) run alcohol out of Franklin County, with the townsfolk and police on their side. Until of course, a new sheriff comes to town. Well, actually, a new special deputy, all the way from Chicago going by the name Charlie Rakes in the form of an exquisitely tailored and well-manicured Guy Pearce. If his immediately look doesn’t make you chuckle, his pronounced speech and curled upper lip would, though you’ll likely be edgy as well.
With his impeccable attire, Rakes proceeds to threaten the livelihood of the Bondurant boys, as well as their lives, torturing those he doesn’t kill outright, and ridding the county of those who support bootleg.
Forrest (Tom Hardy), the relative brains and considerable brawn of the band of brothers takes immediate offense to this intrusion, especially after little Jack, a boy still looking to earn his place among men, coils when confronted by Rakes, and proceeds to get beaten to a pulp. For some, this may a welcome comeuppance. Shia LeBeouf is Jack, and whether or not the meager look, the whiny voice, and the desperate attempt to be liked is acting, Jack just seems to get in the way—in the lives of his brothers, and in the movie.
Jack narrates this story, one filled with intense, realistic bloody violence, and some terrific actors. However, LeBeouf as an actor, and Jack as a character, is the hole of the delicious donut that is the talented cast and interesting characters surrounding him.
Hardy and Pearce clearly saw the script and said, don’t worry, we got this. The two take their figures to their most logical and brilliant ends, stealing away every scene they are in. Rakes oozes an oily, sniveling wretchedness, unabashed while attacking people’s corporeal self, or their character. Forrest is equally unpredictable in his actions, but quiet and tempered, a 1920s incredible hulk, loveable and casually (and hopefully) immortal as rumour says he is. The two of them are the most captivating presences in the film, charming and funny (one certainly more wholesome than the other), and you only hope amid so many bullets and knives, the two of them make until the bloody end.
The pair get enough time on screen, but deserve more. So do Jessica Chastain. She shimmers as Maggie, a Chicago transplant looking to get away from bright lights and large crowds. Her fiery hair, blue eyes, and lush outfits provide the only colour in the film, a fair-skinned and soft-spoken counterpart to the loud, brash men in the film. Like Chastain, Mia Wasikowska is underutilized as Bertha, the reverand’s chaste daughter. Whereas Maggie and Forrest are naturally drawn to each other by circumstance, Jack pursues Bertha.
Beloved Gary Oldman reappears too infrequently after making a startling appearance early on in the aforementioned drive-by shooting (what’s it called when the shooter stands still and the victim drives by?) He is a city-version of Forrest: equally violent, and just as interested in keeping the booze flowing, but with cleaner clothes.
The simplicity of the story and the talent of the actors make the narration superfluous and distracting. The film’s lyrical music is also unnecessary, seemingly singing exactly what is taking place on screen, as if the director is not trusting enough. We easily know what is going on, but this is movie that ends with the audience wanting more of some things (Hardy, Pearce, Oldman), and likely less of others (Jack/Lebeouf). The fine actors take control, and much of what is done to make sure were up to speed only serves to slow things down.
The violence is startling, and between bloodshed there are some genuinely laughs, mostly all in favour of Forrest and at the expense of Rakes. A few things get in the way of this predictable and safe film—an annoying kid here or there—but it is mostly a satisfying trip, with a wonderful payoff, and some truly fun performances.