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Lawless Review

John's Rating: 8/10 Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.5/10 (4 reviews total) It's hard to think of a more appropriate title for John Hillcoat's new Prohibition drama than Lawless (though the title of the novel the film is based on — The Wettest County in the World — is a close second). The film takes place in Franklin County, Va. during the early 1930s, an area of the country where the finest of lines separates cop from criminal, principled hero from animalistic villain. But while the characters' morals are constantly changing, one thing is certain: Lawless is a bloody good time at the movies (emphasis on bloody). Three men — brothers, actually — rule over the town's extensive moonshining operation as the film begins. Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) is inarguably the top dog. He's the "silent, but deadly" type, as he rarely has more to say than a grunt or one-word answer, but even the local law enforcement knows better than to get in Forrest's way. He'll gladly thrown down with anyone, but he also has brother Howard (Jason Clarke) and his oft-used brass knuckles in his corner. The third brother is Jack (Shia LaBeouf). The runt of the Bondurant litter, Jack's only used as a driver. He longs to be bootlegger and a gangster like his brothers, but he's more enamored with the fast cars and luxurious suits of national icon Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). Reluctantly, Forrest agrees to let Jack in as a partner, but this move comes at the worst possible time. Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) has just arrived from Chicago to lead a crooked crackdown on Franklin County's bootlegging operation, and Jack's big dreams, inexperience and hot temper  — not to mention's Forrest's not-so-sunny disposition — are making the Bondurants his No. 1 target. Jack is definitely the main focus of Lawless, and though his story is a familiar one, it's expertly executed. LaBeouf gives his best performance to date, imbuing Jack with an almost pathetic need to please while still maintaining a sense of masculinity that serves him well during the film's climactic shootout. Jack's actions and his occasional inability to act drive the plot along, and all the while you'll admire LaBeouf's ability to transform himself on a dime from a giddy kid to a beat-up wannabe to an accomplished businessman. LaBeouf, however, can't touch Hardy when it comes to sheer effectiveness and the ability to completely inhabit his role. So often the guy doesn't need to say a single word to elicit emotion in the audience. Some of his biggest laughs come from an oddly timed grunt, and some of the film's most frightening moments are ones when Forrest sends his steely stare in the direction of an adversary. Throughout the film, the love lives of both Jack and Forrest come into focus. The former has his eyes on the demure daughter of a local preacher (played by Mia Wasikowska), while his older brother quietly falls for Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), a newcomer in town looking for a way to escape and forget about her depressing past in Chicago. Both subplots are weak links in Lawless' overall story, but Jack's is particularly problematic. Wasikowska never really establishes her character, but Nick Cave's screenplay, which is better than solid on most fronts, doesn't do her any favors. In one scene she's repulsed by Jack and his weak moral compass, but during their next encounter, she's slyly fawning over him. With so much other great stuff going on around this aspect of the film, its sloppiness is all the more obvious and frustrating. But Lawless has a lot of interesting, well-developed themes, and its strong sense of time and place only enhances the magnitude of what Hillcoat and Cave are exploring. While we're getting introduced to Forrest, we learn about his supposed invincibility (the flu that killed Mom and Pop Bondurant was only a minor annoyance to their oldest son). Throughout the film, cops and bootleggers alike take their best shot at him, but he's a tough dude — a legend, even — and during a time when America's biggest heroes were really anti-heroes, Cave and Hillcoat explore exactly what that means to great effect. Other than the limp romantic elements, the only real turnoff here is the extreme (potentially excessive) violence. The Road this is not. Lawless is a crowd-pleasing effort from a talented, up-and-coming duo. The performances are top-notch, and the production values are impeccable. Does it reinvent the gangster movie? No, but it's one of the most enjoyable movies you can see during this typically off time of the year. Rating: 8/10 Simon thought: "Lawless is a gritty but robustly filmed period gangster flick that is equaled in its ability to please a crowd only by the acting talent on screen. Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce sell every inch of their characters with the former reminding us (as if we needed it) just how easily he can step into any role and Pearce morphing into one of the most oily and deliciously smarmy villains in recent memory. The true revelation, however, comes with Shia LaBeouf. Having sworn off big-budget fare, the former “Transformers” star (while often dwarfed by the immense talent on display from the pros) crafts an interesting character that rarely calls attention to the famous actor behind the façade. Bursts of gruesome violence, gunplay and explosions only serve to sweeten John Hillcoat’s Southern-flavored Western, which at its core is as potent as a character-centric drama. Lawless is a winning prohibition-era parable." Rating: 8/10 Steven thought: "Lawless serves mostly as an exercise in the escalation of violent tactics in a place without law and order. Other than being slimy, obsessive-compulsive and all manners of dis-likable, Pearce's Charlie Rakes doesn't appear to have much reason behind his methods other than he thinks he can get away with it. The Bondurants' refusal to give in to anyone is all it takes for things to get ugly — and fast. Hillcoat succeeds in these Western-like elements, giving the film a more raw treatment that goes for the guts and the emotions rather than a more mentally complex game of attrition. Other than balancing out this violent film, the ladies of Lawless are one dimensional, holding the film back compared to similar ensemble efforts. Seeing the film as more of a Western will make a world of difference to viewers, as it justifies the seat-of-the-pants approach to conflict and character motivaiton; it's striking and gripping as a piece of genre filmmaking." Rating: 7.5/10 Ethan thought: "Lawless is staggeringly competent. The actors are all great, John Hillcoat’s direction has just a bit of flair (the scene where young Jack Bondurant visits a Mennonite service is a highlight of bizarreness), and screenwriter Nick Cave keeps the story of the Bondurant boys moving at a good clip. But there’s something lifeless about this genre flick, a lack of purpose beneath all the violence and vengeance. Some ideas float around regarding immortality, corruption, and the fundamental brutality of man – but none of it really sticks. What’s left is a well-done gangster/Western crossover that just chugs along to its inevitably bloody finale." Rating: 6.5/10  


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