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Monday, September 3, 2012

Movie Review: LAWLESS


"I'm a Bondurant. We don't lay down for nobody."
-- Forrest Bondurant

Lawless is a 2012 crime drama directed by John Hillcoat that is adapted from Matt Bondurant's 2008 novel, The Wettest County in the World. The story follows the Bondurants, a family of three brothers led by the eldest Forrest (Tom Hardy), who run an illegal moonshine business in Franklin County, Virginia in the midst of the Prohibition era. With the help of his brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest has become one of the biggest suppliers of moonshine in the county. One day, a special deputy from Chicago named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is brought into the county in order to destroy the bootlegging businesses, and he immediately clashes with the Bondurant clan. He starts to rid the county of its numerous illegal distilleries, and he soon starts a personal vendetta against Forrest Bondurant. Youngest brother Jack finds a way to keep the business afloat, only increasing the tension between the brothers and the ever-present Rakes.

I first heard about this film about a year ago when it was still to be titled The Wettest County in the World. At the time, I took a passing glance, noticing it merely for its casting star power, but it didn't necessarily ring a bell as a must-see. When the film's trailer was released, however, something about the stylistic grittiness compelled me to at least give it a view. The film has opened to moderately positive reviews, but I can't quite say they've been entirely stellar thus far.

One of the biggest issues most critics - including myself - have had with Lawless is its screenplay. While there's definitely a strong and emotional story of family bonds and revenge hidden beneath it all, there seems to be a little too much extra storyline given to the film. At its core, the story should be about the three brothers and their loyalty to one another, regardless of how much they drive one another crazy. There were a few ancillary characters that turned out to be more important than they should have been, and it ultimately helps to bog down the story a little bit. Despite this, the film's climax and finale still prove to be quite strong, even with the obstacles along the way.

Where this film's strength truly lies is in its cast. Now, I have to start by saying that I have never been much of a fan of Shia LaBeouf. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but there have been times where I have downright hated his presence on-screen. However, I think Lawless will ultimately be the film where we as the audience see LaBeouf mature into a legitimate actor right before our very eyes. At the start of the film, he almost seems a little bit of touch, as he often does, but by film's end, there's a power and a grace to his acting ability that I haven't seen him convey before. I have to tip my hat to the young actor for breaking out of his acting shell and transforming (pun intended) himself into something entirely different.

The rest of the cast fills out quite nicely as well. Tom Hardy continues to prove to me that he is one of the better actors working in Hollywood today. You can place his performance in Lawless right next to his noteworthy turns in 2009's Bronson and 2011's Warrior. Pearce is also great as the film's central villain, and I thought he brought the film's second-best character (behind Hardy's Forrest) to the screen. Also worth mention for their smaller, albeit not entirely necessary, roles are Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, who all manage to bring strong performances to the film.

At the end of the day, Lawless manages to bring together a very strong ensemble cast that ultimately falls prey to a less-than-stellar screenplay. Still, the strength of the performances helps to keep this film afloat, and an emotional second act gives the audience an opportunity to stay engaged and involved with the events on-screen. See it for Hardy and Pearce's performances, and be surprised by the growth of Shia LaBeouf into a legitimate actor.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
Status: Should See


  1. Been wanting to check out this one - glad to see you say it is a should see!

  2. With an awesome cast, and some electrifying moments of blood and action, Lawless has a lot going for it being the last big blockbuster of the summer, even if it isn’t all that fast-paced as some people may think. Good review Shaun.