Review: Lawless

Directed by: John Hillcoat.

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska.

Rating:   Running Time: 116 mins.

Based on the book The Wettest Country In The World by Matt Bondurant, Lawless tells the supposed true story of Jack Bondurant (Shia Labeouf) and his brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke), a family of bootleggers producing and selling moonshine alcohol in the Virginia countryside during the prohibition of the 1930’s. Things are going well for the brothers, running things out of their bar which masquerades as a diner, and with Jack making a deal with mobster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) to supply him with regular shipments of moonshine, business is very good.

Forrest hires Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), a former dancer, to help out around the diner, meanwhile the local Sheriff who had been turning a blind eye to them and other bootleggers turns up one day with Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) from Chicago. Rakes demands an ongoing cut of the profits to overlook their bootlegging, and when Forrest declines, a feud begins to brew between Rakes and the Bonderants that endangers them and Maggie as well as Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowski), the daughter of a local church minister who Jack has begun to court.

With a cast of great actors, it’s no surprise that this is filled with some great performances from the likes of Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce in particular (Pearce is at a career high) but also a more than decent performance from Shia Labeouf as the main chracter who is telling the story. He gives what may be his best performance in his career, in no small part due to the talent he’s surrounded with. Even lesser known actor Jason Clarke is great in his role as the bruiser of the three brothers, and Gary Oldman, who sadly is not in the movie for a great deal, gives gold in his scenes, most of which are with Labeouf. Both of the female leads in the movie also give good performances in what should be great roles, but because of weak development in their characters it prevents them from being at their best.

The movie unfortunately seems to struggle with both narrative and character developments, with long scenes which sould have been trimmed slightly to allow the movie to focus more on the story rather than the way things look as this is, with some admittedly great looking scenes, where the movie’s attention is squarely focused. There is much that’s great to look at here, great care and attention has been paid to the asthetics of the period, as well as some very nice camera work and great setups by Benoît Delhomme as director of photography doing great work with several scenes, giving them a feel of an old western trying to break out of the countryside setting.

For a movie with a running time under the two hour mark, it’s a good 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and could have been improved by removing as much from it’s running time with some careful editing and better story telling. The cost of such lengthy scenes results a movie which, were it not for the visual style, is a struggle to watch, and never fully allows the audience to engage with the characters. There are a few scenes where there should be a strong emotional resonance, when instead there’s an apparent lack of such feeling.

There’s also an issue with the movie’s ending, which to avoid spoilers I will not cover in detail, but certain events take place that led the audience on more than one occasion as the movie closes, to gaffaw in dis-belief. Though this is based on a book which supposedly tells a true story, the way these events are handled in the movie is almost a slap in the face of the viewer, being wrapped up with voiceover instead of showing us, almost as if they got to the end of the movie, realised the audience were losing patience, and decided to wrap things up quickly. It could have and should have been handled in a much better way. Worth seeing for the performances of the cast, but a shameful waste of talent in what would otherwise be an average movie at best.

Posted on September 11, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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