America, built on blood, sweat and tears… and blood.
Lawless premieres at a very delicate time of the year: The summer is wrapping up its big-budget action adventures and the fall is just starting to promise moviegoers films that will pander to that little voice in the back of our mind that keeps shouting, “I’m cultured, damn it.”
While it’s a little too soon to entertain the idea that Lawless would be in the running for an Oscar, it does offer itself as a rather smooth (if flawed) transitional piece between the so-called popcorn movies and the stars ones. While it offers up plenty of bloody mayhem and a respectable cast and crew, it never wows the audience enough to make itself a memorable movie. But that doesn’t mean Lawless should be ignored.
Them Bondurant boys are up to trouble again.
It almost seems appropriate that this movie is hitting theaters just as the political campaigns start barking at each other about the glorious history of our great country. The truth is, and this is in no way an anti-America rant, this country was built on bloodshed and dancing around the laws. While the protagonists of this film don’t necessarily have a great cause that they’re fighting for, the principals of freedom, capitalism and all that jazz still ring true. In fact, in some ways the leads are almost as bad as the villain.
The story follows a gaggle of bootlegging brothers out of Virginia, played by Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke, who scoff at the idea of prohibition. In fact, they seem to have a pretty good thing going for them as they achieve a harmonious existence with the local law – that is, until a big-shot special deputy from the big city (Guy Pearce) shows up. And as it turns out, the reputation the three brothers have built doesn’t impress the sociopath from Chicago. So, an all-out war erupts between these good ol’ boys and the law, as massive casualties hit both sides.
The biggest flaw of Lawless is that it’s really, really boring for the first act and a large chunk of the second. Add in the aspect that technically the heroes are villains (and have no qualms about being villains), and from the get-go, the film has a long way to go in order to redeem itself in the eyes of the audience. Luckily, this isn’t the first time at the rodeo for writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, and the two not only to create memorable characters, but also give the actors enough to work with to make them unique.
Making a comeback one creepy role at a time.
This is especially true of Pearce’s Charlie Rakes, who starts off merely seeming like an irritating, pretentious prick and quickly evolves into one of the most nerve-racking villains of the year. It’s very apparent that a lot of work went into the presentation of this character: Everything from the bow tie to the suspiciously absent eyebrows comes together flawlessly.
Of course, the brothers are a sight to behold in their own right, especially Hardy (who is still sporting his bulk from The Dark Knight Rises) with his trademark “humph” that seems to rumble out of him. When he does speak his voice is reminiscent of Ted Levine’s and is so deep you can feel it in your stomach.
Still, despite all of this talent and how much the movie has to offer, it never crosses the invisible line into greatness. Perhaps this is a result of the lack of tension in the film. It’s as though there’s no sense of urgency for the characters. After all, one of the first lines in the film is about how the trio are considered to be immortal, and none of the villains really seems like the “God-killing type.”
Technically speaking, it’s a very well-made film, and maintains a tight feel to it, embracing its small-town nature, and it’s a quite convincing period piece. But aspects of it feel as though they’re trying a little too hard, especially between Shia LaBeouf’s (over)acting and the costuming department.
Essentially what we’re left with is a movie with the potential for greatness, but one that never quite achieves the degree it’s striving for. Does that mean that it’s not worth seeing? No, it’s quite enjoyable (though it certainly isn’t for everyone). However, grand expectations are probably wasted on this film. So, if you’re looking for the first Oscar-worthy flick of the year, you might want to hold off for a bit. Otherwise, give Lawless a try. The acting alone is worth the price of admission.
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