Director: John Hillcoat.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman.
Run Time: 116 minutes.
Lawless sounded promising on paper. It looked to be an account of the other side of prohibition, away from the glamour of Al Capone and Chicago. The story of the bootleggers in the mountains, running the hooch into the big cities, risking it all against the law. A simpler time, a simpler people blah blah blah. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have any real interest in Lawless until I found out that John Hillcoat and Nick Cave (pronounced Cah-vey, a fact I refuse to check) were collaborating again. Cave wrote and Hillcoat directed Australian/western The Proposition (2005), which I really enjoyed. It also has Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman, so I decided to overlook Shia LaBeouf and give it a watch.
Also, the era itself is not one that particularly interests me, but I thought I’d go into it with an open mind and see what happens. The film sort of happened, and then I went home. I really could just leave the review at that. At best, the film was forgettable. It was pretty slow and boring, and I was constantly waiting for it to pick up, save for a few interesting moments. It all just looked and felt a bit drab. We are promised a cat and mouse style thriller as corrupt police and bootleggers stand-off against each other. In reality, the plot just trundles by as predictable escalations occur with no real consequence.
We never find out any real information about the moonshine making process, or the ingenious methods of distribution. Taking a more in depth approach certainly would have helped draw me in to the world more, and could have helped me forget about Shia LaBeouf.
Oh Shia. Why, in a film starring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman, would you make Shia LaBeouf your main focus? Don’t answer that, because you fucking can’t. He is so much the focus of this film, you don’t even know. At risk of breaking my spoiler rule, Gary Oldman is hardly even in it. Must have needed an extra sprinkling of LaBeouf. We get to see his soft side courting a religious girl. We see him try to follow in the footsteps of his brothers, without actually exploring the family dynamic. Removing all trace of him would improve the film easily by two stars, allowing previously unexplored avenues to be expanded upon. But no, we get Shia LaBeouf’s annoying little puchable watery face. He looks like he’s having a bad reaction to a bee sting. I find it incredibly difficult in any film he’s in to care about him. How could I realistically invest emotionally in him? Tom Hardy, now there’s a man I can invest in.
The simple fact is that Hardy very rarely puts a foot wrong. He doesn’t here either. He still has the bulk of Bane (hidden under cardigans, which is fantastic in itself), and grunts through emotional encounters. He constantly commands your attention, only to be gazumped by Sheepy LaFerret-features, which is an absolutely catastrophic shame. Guy Pearce also brings a menacing and eyebrow-less performance as the Bondurant brother’s nemesis Charlie Rakes, the corrupt big city policeman tasked with negotiating a deal with the bootleggers, and the battle of wits between the two actors could have been great.
By now of course, you know what I’m going to say in response to that, a response that runs throughout every criticism of the film:
I’m back from a ten minute wall punching break, and he is still annoying me. The film really was a case of Shia over substance, making Lawless a forgettable addition to the prohibition gangster genre. It fails miserably at what I like to call the Drive model, where emotionally engaging drama is punctured by acts of intermittent violence, which in turn allows you to engage with the characters and the story. The Ryan Gosling vehicle (ha!) finds this balance, as you care about the outcome of the character’s lives. The action adds drama and tension. In Lawless, it just happens now and again, and we go back to not investing in Shitey LaBlert. This raised the films into heights of bland mediocrity that left me waiting for the end credits to roll. Some may disagree. Some may actually be able to tolerate LaBeouf. God forbid, some may actually like him. But I can’t, and I bloody won’t, which made sitting through nearly two hours of Lawless unbearable, which is a shame, as I actually wanted to enjoy it.
Score: 5 out of 10.
If you liked this, check out: Road to Perdition, The Proposition, Miller’s Crossing, Last Man Standing.