Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke star as indestructible brothers and bootleggers during prohibition, but they soon find out guns, gangsters and naked damsels in distress are the very least of their worries when a corrupt law official arrives into town and wants blood to be shed. But does all of this violence, chaos and illegal liquor translate into a worthwhile movie? Find out after the jump.
Australian director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave join forces once again after their 2005 masterpiece The Proposition and the 1988 prison drama Ghosts of the Civil Dead for Lawless. Set in 1931, the Bondurant brothers (Hardy, LaBeouf and Clarke) are the most successful and most popular bootleggers in all of Franklin county, Virginia during prohibition. This is all jeopardized in an instance when special deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) arrives in town. He’s an incredibly unpleasant and insidious man wanting a share of the profits or else. Along with being revered, the brothers are also feared and considered immortal, but will this mean anything in a war against a ruthless and immoral deputy who will do just about anything to bring them down?
The Proposition (Directed by Hillcoat and Written by Cave) is one of the greatest westerns I have ever seen so it goes without saying that these two are a creative force to be reckoned with. Cave is an amazing screenwriter and Hillcoat a great director, so I can’t event begin to tell you how it breaks my heart that Lawless is a mediocre drama filled with a handful of decent moments in a menagerie of stupidity. The amount of potential in each and every frame is almost infuriating.
But before any of this can be said, let’s elaborate.
The performances are the start of the problem. Shia LaBeouf is underwhelming, Tom Hardy does what he can but underneath his shifty eyes and grunting, but there’s very little there. Gary Oldman as a notorious gangster who converses and makes deals with the brothers is very good yet on-screen for a grand total of 10 minutes (don’t let the trailer fool you). The female leads/love interests Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska put in an effort, but their characters are just so paper-thin. However, the worst performance by far is that of Guy Pearce – he is one of the best character actors you’ll find, and yet his role is directed with three sides of ham and cheese, it’s almost as if he’s imitating a drunken Liza Minnelli and not a villain one should fear. It’s over-acted to no end.
These less than spectacular performances can only be attributed to the screenplay written by Nick Cave who is an amazing writer yet his adaptation of the novel ‘The Wettest County In The World’ by Matt Bodurant is an absolute mess. The character of the deputy is so one-dimensional and silly (the performance is only the tip of the iceberg) that he’s merely a villain and not an established character.
Almost every female role in the film requires nudity – I’m not even kidding. They all get undressed at one point or another (man with the trench coat in the back, this is your lucky day), but of course, this means they succumb to making stupid decisions and embarrassing acts just to please the brothers – this really does get tiresome. But putting the supporting cast aside, the brothers themselves don’t have very much depth as characters either, beyond holding crates of booze and acting tough in front of women, there isn’t a whole lot more to them.
As said, this REALLY breaks my heart in having to say all of this, but something wonderful could have been made out of this material, especially at the hands of these two great storytellers, but it just never rings true. Sure it passes the time well enough, and there are moments which hint at a better movie being even remotely possible, but overall, it just falls flat. Moments of heavy-handed violence prove dull and ineffective given the lack of context.
The film is apparently based on a true story, yet how can one believe that in the early 1930’s, all men were bastards who spoke in grunts and every woman you could possibly meet simply despised wearing clothes? Although they’re two very different films, please see The Proposition instead, almost everything that fails with Lawless is achieved tenfold in that film – you won’t regret it.
By Chris Elena
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer(s): Nick Cave, Matt Bodurant (Novel)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman
Runtime: 116 minutes
Release Date(s): Australia: October 11 2012; New Zealand: February 7 2013; USA: August 29 2012