Lawless * * * 1/2

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Director: John Hillcoat.
Screenplay: Nick Cave.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor, Chris McGarry, Tim Tolin, Lew Temple.

The last film that director John Hillcoat and screenwriter/musician Nick Cave collaborated on was the 2005 neo-western “The Proposition“. Four years later, Hillcoat went on to make his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” (on which Cave supplied the music) but now they are together again with Cave back on screenwriting duties. If you’re familiar with the aforementioned films then you’ll also be familiar with the sark sense of realism that they bring. This is no different and just as good as anything they’ve produced so far.

In Franklin County, Virginia, in 1931, the Bondurant brothers: Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) run a distillery and bootlegging business in Moonshine. However, the District Attorney decides to clamp down on the bootleggers as Prohibition is introduced. To enforce the law, crooked and unscrupulous, Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is brought in to bring the brothers down but the Bondurant’s refuse to yield.

When the reviews of this film started flooding in, the opinions were less than favourable, leading me to lower my expectations. In many ways, I’m glad this happened as I found plenty to enjoy here and feel that the film may be a little harshly criticised. For a start – as mentioned earlier – Hillcoat has completely captured the gritty realism required. His feel for the time and place and eye for detail is highly impressive and it’s accompanied by an excellently evocative score by Cave and Warren Ellis. From the offset, it establishes it’s methodical and deliberate pace. It builds slowly but assuredly and spends quite a bit of time on character development; LaBeouf impresses with his, runt of the litter, leading role but the standout’s among the cast are a brooding Hardy and an extremely corrupt and unsavoury Pearce. However, this particular path that it treads so well, is also the films undoing. Too much time is spent on some characters and not enough on others; Chastain has little to do but still manages to do well, with what she’s got. The third member of the Bondurant brothers (Jason Clarke) is underwritten but again squeezes enough from the material he’s given and still manages to make an impact amongst a high calibre cast. The most criminally underused is Gary Oldman, though. It builds his character up and then doesn’t let him loose. Oldman is an actor that excels in these type of roles, yet it would seem that most of his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Regardless of their screen time, everyone manages to pitch in here, though, and if this wasn’t a talented collection of performers, then some would have faded into the background. The fault with this has to lie in the hands of Nick Cave and his patchy, underwritten script. The conclusion is rushed and unsatisfactory and despite promising an enticing confrontation between it’s central characters, it fails to deliver. Maybe this would have led it down the formulaic path but I still would rather have that, than the ending we are provided. That being said, I still found this to be an engrossing, atmospheric and vivid depiction of depression-era times. It definitely does have it’s flaws and if you scratch the surface you’ll find a generic crime film but it’s so richly textured that it’s flaws are, mostly, forgivable.

Much like the old Jalopy’s that they drive, this doesn’t quite have the mileage to see it comfortably to it’s destination but it still a thoroughly involving, if occasionally bumpy, ride.

Mark Walker

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37 Responses to “Lawless * * * 1/2”

  1. Great read! Glad you were able to catch up with this one. It was my #2 or #3 most anticipated movie of last year. It has a cast featuring some of my very favorites. I think I ended up giving it the same score you did (maybe a 4). It just didn’t measure up to the excitement I had built up. It definitely has its flaws. But, like you, I did enjoy it. You mentioned the two performances that really standout – Pearce & Hardy. Both are a time of fun.

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    • Pearce and Hardy were excellent and Oldman had the potential to be, if it wasnt taken from him.
      I considered giving it 4 stars but the underwritten supporting characters and lazy ending bugged me bit. Other than that, it was really good. Thanks man.

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  2. I thought Pearce was great in this movie and even though he may seem a bit cartoonish, I still hated him and wanted him dead by the end of this. I rarely ever feel that when I see villains nowadays. Good review Mark.

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  3. Nice review, I enjoyed this one. “I thought I walked” line from Hardy is hilarious!

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  4. Even though I like Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain, I’ve been avoiding this one since Shia LaBeouf is in it. I might give this film a shot. Nice review.

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    • LaBeouf is actually quite decent in it but then I don’t rag on him the way most people do. Without a doubt, this is the Pearce and Hardy show. They are both excellent. Thank man.

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  5. Great cast, still looking forward to seeing this, despite other reviews. Good stuff Mark, and could you please change your gravatar photo to match Guy Pearce’s middle parting, then I can use it on my Guest Contributor bit. Cheers 🙂

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  6. Popcorn Nights Says:

    Nice one, you’ve convinced me to give this a go, sounds like it’ll be good for a Saturday night sometime. Shame about Oldman though. It’s a pain sometimes when there are several decent actors in one film as it seems like you don’t see enough of a few of them (unless it’s a 3-hour-long running time).

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    • Yeah, you should definitely give it a go. It nowhere near as poor a some made out but it is criminal how little screentime Oldman gets. I’d have been happy with another half hour on the running time to see more of the supporting characters.

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  7. ray brayne Says:

    Supposedly based on real characters and events, it might have limited the films scope. I felt LeBeouf and Pearce carried the movie with good range of emotions but Hardy was way too one dimensional. The film failed to capture the look and feel of the time and place. A better effort was last years “Hatfields and McCoys” on TV. That’s the hard part of any period piece, put the viewer in the then and there.

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    • I’d have to disagree Ray. I felt like I was in the then and there. I was completely embroiled in the setting. Some characters were definitely one dimensional but I thought Hardy was a real menacing presence and enjoyed it every time he was onscreen. Towards the end when he was in it less, I think the film suffered. I’m with you on LaBeouf and Pearce though. The were both great – particularly the latter.

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  8. I’m glad that you also enjoyed Lawless. It received some really unfair reviews at the time, and I was similar to you in that they lowered my expectations, only for me to then enjoy the film even more.

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  9. Great cast, gorgeous visuals, but the story was justtoo generic for me. I saw this back in the summer of ’12 and to be honest, I can’t even remember it. Nice review though.

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    • Thanks Mark. I do agree that the film is your average, generic crime story but it was the good feel for time and place that allowed me to go with it. I also enjoyed several performances. The script was weak but Hillcoat made the most from it, I think.

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  10. Mark,I was disappointed in Lawless, you read my review. As a massive fan of Hardy, it was pretty ordinary for him. I enjoyed the proposition immensely, and is a better film. Perhaps having your expectations lowered did work out for the best, it can often do that. Nice review as alway sir, but ultimately I was underwhelmed by Lawless

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    • I can see why many didn’t take to it but I was, genuinely, entertained from beginning to end. I could have went at least another half hour. Such a shame that some characters barely got a look in but I managed to overlook that for the most part.

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  11. Nice review. Good to see someone actually liked this one, haha. I’ll try to see it soon. My brother was watching the other day and I watched a scene with Guy Pearce brutally beating Shia and it was fantastic.

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    • Many didn’t like it Fernando but it’s harshly criticised in my opinion. It does have it’s faults but not enough to merit the backlash it took. Pearce is great in it, by the way.

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  12. Spot on here Mark. My gripes with it are pretty much the same as yours in that some of the characters are just too underwritten but it still does enough to keep you involved. I also felt that they went for a bit of shock value with some of the violence when they really didn’t need to. I wanted to see a lot more from Oldman too, I thought the whole old time village and people struggling to cope with the new technology of the big city was something they could have explored a lot more.

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    • Cheers Chris. They could have explored many things further and if they did, this really could have been something special. Sadly they didnt, but it’s still a decent crime flick.

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  13. I’ll watch this for Clarke and Hardy, I’ve been hearing less than stellar reviews on this but as you said, it’s still pretty involving regardless, so I’d think it’s still worth a rental. Thanks Mark!

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    • Clarke role is very underwritten Ruth but he just about manages to an impact. Hardy was great for me. It does have flaws but I still enjoyed it. Be warned though, it has a couple of violent moments.

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  14. Great post. I too found a lot to like in this movie but wish we had seen more of Gary Oldman. Despite lots of people saying they were disappointed with LaBeouf’s performance, I was pleasantly surprised and think it is one of his best performances to date.

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    • Cheers Natalie. Glad to hear you agree somewhat. Oldman was just a waste and that’s the film’s biggest mistake. How can you not tap into that man’s abilities? LaBeouf on the other hand gets a lot of bad press these days. Personally, I don’t know why. He’s a decent actor and he proved himself here.

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  15. I think you are the first person I’ve read that mentioned how good the music and score is. I haven’t watched the film, but based off your criticism of the ending is probably why the movie wasn’t well received. I know in the States it also suffered from poor marketing.

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  16. Great write-up man, surprised I missed this when you posted it. This is a great example of Guy Pearce in a different kind of role. He was so vicious

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers bud! This was a review when my blog was in its infancy. I used to rush a lot of my reviews around this time but my opinion of it still stands. I liked Lawless, even though many slated it. Pearce, in particular, was marvellous. A great movie villain!

      Liked by 1 person

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