Genre: Drama Director: John Hillcoat Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHann, Noah Taylor, Lew Temple RunTime: 1 hr 54 mins Rating: M18 (Violence, Nudity & Coarse Language) Released By: Golden Village Pictures Official Website:http://www.lawless-film.com/
Opening Day: 15 November 2012
Synopsis: "Lawless" is the true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. In this epic gangster tale, inspired by true-life tales of author Matt Bondurant's family in his novel "The Wettest County in the World", the loyalty of three brothers is put to the test against the backdrop of the nation's most notorious crime wave.
Like the gangster movies of its ilk, ‘Lawless’ – which purports to tell the true story of the Bondurant brothers during the Prohibition era – celebrates the audaciousness of the men who lived and loved outside the law. Back in the 1930s when alcohol was outlawed, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) were three brothers who ran a profitable business in Franklin County selling moonshine out of common glass jars – so established was their enterprise that even the local cops were their customers.
Nick Cave’s adaptation of the book ‘The Wettest County in the World’ – the author of whom counts the three infamous protagonists as his ancestors – begins with the arrival of Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) from Chicago whose mission is to crack down on the rampant moonshine operations in Franklin. That of course puts him on a collision course with the Bondurants, but as we quickly find out, the dandy lawman with slicked hair and gray gloves is not a man with justified methods.
In a brash display of authority against the defiant Forrest, Rakes beats Jack senseless, sparking off a series of tit-for-tat series of strikes between Rakes and the Bondurants that tests your limits for uncompromising violence. Indeed, we should warn you that the bloodletting here will likely make even the strong of heart squirm, especially one where two of Rakes’ men take a knife to slitting Forrest’s throat. The brute violence is supposed to be lyrical of the harsh circumstances these men are living in – unfortunately with an underdeveloped script that relegates its characters to stock types, it just comes off exploitative.
Disappointingly therefore, no attempt is made to demonstrate the moral ambiguity of the characters. Forrest is the tough reticent one whom we are supposed to respect for the code of independence and honour by which he lives by, with some good-ol sentimentality thrown in when he falls in love with the red-haired waitress Maggie (Jessica Chastain) at their local bar. Howard is the war vet we are supposed to sympathise with; and Jack is the weak-willed wuss who mans up when he sees the world around him has no place for gentleness – except in his pursuit of the pixie-ish church girl Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).
Similarly, there is no nuance in Rakes – he is a sadist, period, and we are not meant to feel anything for him except disgust. Such simplicity isn’t bad in itself, but John Hillcoat directs the movie as if there is much more to the characters than there is. Each scene therefore unfolds with intended gravity just so we can appreciate and empathise with the characters a little more, but there is little purpose in doing so when the characters are drawn without much complexity. In the absence of that, the deliberate pacing is simply laborious, and the conspicuous lack of any cinematic urgency leaves one cold.
That’s a pity because the acting here is topnotch. Tom Hardy brings his signature roguish charisma to Forrest, and even though he grunts and growls more than speaks in the movie, there is something magnetic about his very presence that keeps you hooked. Ditto for Pearce, who chews up the scenery despite being cast as a caricatured baddie, as well as Gary Oldman, severely underused as the legendary Chicago gangster Floyd Banner whom the Bondurants get entangled with. The weakest link in the ensemble is LaBeouf, who plays Jack like a variant of the twitchy fast-talking character in ‘Transformers’ and by virtue of repetition comes dangerously close to proving the limits of his acting range.
Yet even the solid performances on display can’t disguise the fact that there is little depth to the drama going on, whether the back-and-forth plotting between the Bondurants and Rakes or the characters within. It is also a let-down considering how Hillcoat’s last collaboration with Cave was the superb ‘The Proposition’, which felt like a bold reinvention of the Western genre. ‘Lawless’ is too simplistic and therefore pedestrian, not helped by a frustratingly languid pace, and this is ultimately a lifeless Western that will leave you listless.
(A less than compelling Western that tries to substitute some unflinchingly bloody violence for a repetitive plot and simplistic characters)