With a film as epic as Lawless it only seems fitting that we have two different takes on it. So what I bestow upon you, is MY review. Enjoy, and insert a huge Tom Hardy grunt right here.
Lawless. Freaking Lawless. How do I even describe this film? This beautiful, brooding, violent, power house of a film. Oh shit, well I guess I just did. Directed by John Hillcoat, who also directed the dark and depressing classic The Road, and written by Nick Cave (who just so happens to double as one of the coolest rock stars ever), Lawless is a bleak, dark, and very violent power house of cinema that completely took me by surprise. Somehow it hadn’t set in that everyone who was involved was involved until the credits started rolling and then all of a sudden, “HOLY SHIT, WHAT!”. I then spent the next two hours nervously hiding my eyes behind my hands, laughing, crying, and intensely hating a certain character. So THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is Lawless.
I guess I should start off by getting my biggest disappointment in the film out of the way first. You know in the trailers and posters, how they make it seem like Gary Oldman spends the entire movie playing a badass gangster named Floyd Banner? Yeah well, he DOES play a badass gangster, but only for probably a maximum of five minutes. I don’t know what happened here, but his character was SEVERELY underutilized. It was to the point where it literally felt like a small cameo. But luckily, the rest of the cast for the most part made up for that disappointing creative decision.
Tom Hardy, Shia La’beef (err, excuse me, LaBeouf), and Jason Clarke all play the three famous Bondurant brothers, who are pure bred moonshiner’s during the prohibition era in northern Virginia. As usual, Tom Hardy, who portrayed the oldest brother Forrest, blew me the hell away. I think it was pretty obvious that he filmed Lawless before he filmed The Dark Knight Rises. Dude was BEEFY as hell. He spent the entire film radiating nearly as much menace as he did with Bane in TDKR. He also had this hilarious way of NOT speaking, as opposed to grunting. It never got old, and never didn’t get laughs.
LaBeouf played the youngest and dumbest of the three brothers. I’m not typically a fan of LaBeouf, as he’s just not the same Louis Steven anymore, and is more of pretentious douche. So I couldn’t actually tell if I didn’t like LaBeouf or the character he was playing, since Jack Bondurant is the annoying little brother who just wants to be as cool as his older brothers and spends the entire film whining about how he’s never included in anything. Naturally putting himself and everything else in jeopardy.
The biggest and best performance that MUST be stated, is Guy Pearce’s insanely fucking terrifying portrayal of a city cop from Chicago named Charlie Rakes who wants a cut of the Bondurant’s bootlegging money, and wrecks havok when the brothers refuse. Every second he was on screen was absolutely mortifying. Pearce portrayed this character with such a vicious tone that I started having anxiety just knowing the guy was in the same vicinity as what was happening on screen. It was scenes like a slowly panning shot across his hotel room, showing a very frightened prostitute shivering on newspaper, post coitus; or a scene where he very graphically beats the youngest Bondurant to a bloody pulp that instill this intense sense of fear against him. I can honestly say that I haven’t felt that much hatred towards a character in a film in a very long time. I think he may have even surpassed my hatred for Breaking Bad‘s Walter White. It would almost be a shame for him not to get some form of recognition for his performance in this film. You have to see it to believe it.
Everything else in Lawless completely works. It’s a bit of a slow builder at first, but once it picks up, it really picks up. So much praise must be given to Nick Cave’s screenplay. His balance of violence, drama, character development, and as my buddy Brandon put, “a Coen Brothers-esque sense of comedy” was purely top notch. I also have to mention how great the cinematography was. The film’s color pallet was strictly browns and grays, so when the film got bloody, it felt shocking because of the amount of bright crimson over these flat muted colors. Great stuff.
While I can see this becoming a modestly performed film and forgotten about around Oscar Season, I thought Lawless was one of the best films of the year so far. And surely one of the best summer blockbusters. Anyone who is a fan of gritty crime dramas will get a lot of enjoyment out of it, as well as anyone who loves looking at a beefy Tom Hardy! Now, at this point, I can’t end my review without one cheesy punch line, so here guys: had it not been for the underutilized Gary Oldman appearance, Lawless would have been nearly FLAWLESS! Aaaaaaand scene.
I give Lawless four bottles of Moonshine out five:
By Richard Pepper