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Star - Tom Hardy
Genre - Crime Drama
County - USA
Certificate - 18R
Run Time - 116 minutes
Blockbusters - £3.50 per night rental
Amazon - £11.99 DVD (£14.00 Blue Ray)
So, 'Lawless', a crime drama based on the book 'The Wettest County in the World (2008)', about West Virginias most notorious bootlegging family in the prohibition era, the Bondurant's, grandson Matt the author of the book. Making moonshine was legal before prohibition and many farmers and ranchers did enough brewing to keep the locals happy, basic booze you could ferment out of pretty much anything in your shed and the tools and implements in there, especially farm produce like turnips and potato's. You only needed a license to sell it in town and so no one bothered who made what to supply bars and social drinking. But once booze was banned across America through prohibition the moonshine commodity value rose dramatically and so people like the Bondurant's started to make good money, needing some level of violence to maintain their criminality.
The film comes from the unusual partnership of director John Hollicat and the ober cool musician Nice Cave, the pair working together in the previous western The Proposition (2005) and that reason enough to carry on together, their work very much in that roar style of the superb Open Range and the somewhat overrated Unforgiven. Cave, somewhat surprisingly, was offered the screenplay as well as putting together the rather inventive soundtrack with his band The Bad Seeds, 'downdating' classic rock songs to fit Cajun 1930s America, the Doors played with Violins and yeehaw something to behold. There are not many movies out there that take risks like that.
Shia LaBeouf ... Jack Bondurant
Tom Hardy ... Forrest Bondurant
Jason Clarke ... Howard Bondurant
Guy Pearce ... Charlie Rakes
Jessica Chastain ... Maggie Beauford
Mia Wasikowska ... Bertha Minnix
Dane DeHaan ... Cricket Pate
Chris McGarry ... Danny
Tim Tolin ... Mason Wardell
Gary Oldman ... Floyd Banner
=== The Plot ===
It's 1930s America and in Franklyn County, Virginia, Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) is seen as a bit of a legend after surviving the Civil War with all manner of lucky escapes and injuries. Together with his brothers Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia Lebeouf), the Bondurant family runs a profitable distillery and bootlegging business in prohibition America. But when the corrupt District Attorney Mason Wardell (Tom Tolin) arrives in the county with the unscrupulous sharp-suited and ruthless Deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce), the Bondurant family refuses to pay bribes to the new authorities to keep brewing, meaning Rakes is ready to go head-to-head to close the family down through whatever means.
Forrest owns a bar to help sell his booze and hires pretty waitress Maggie (Jessica Chastain) to boost business, a woman with a hidden past in Chicago, the two soon falling for each other. Young Jack is also infatuated with a pretty girl, preacher's daughter Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), and when Forrest is laid up by a serious injury; Jack is looking to impress both her and Forrest by stepping up in the organization to run the booze with his mate Cricket (Dane DeHaan) and cutting deals with fellow bootlegger Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). But his showing off is the weak link Rakes needs and sure to lead to the secret location of their new and expanded distillery. War is coming again for the Bondurant's and Forrest needs to get back in control before the kid brings them down.
=== Results ===
This is one of those films that suffer because some critics took it seriously and built it up and so others felt the need to pile into it because of that, when in fact it's just a fun and violent gangster flick, as all gangster flicks should be. It probably had no intention of chasing Oscars and I find it irritating that the critics panned it because it isn't the film they thought it should be. There is nothing wrong with this film for this genre. Leave it alone guys and girls! This is a lad's movie to split a four-pack with your mates and plenty of hunky men on show for the girlfriends, one particular lady reading this review having a huge crush on Mr Hardy, bulked up here for his following Batman villain role. Hardy does have that macho sex appeal we haven't seen for a while and really good in the underrated Warrior, a film you really should see.
The movie has a real edge to it and plenty of tobacco chewing machismo, the graphic depiction of the violence giving Lawless a heavy dose of realism, one particular scene where Forrest is hospitalized for a bit rather grim. The mostly Australian cast adds to that 'good ol boy' realism and Caves oddball soundtrack adding a welcome and somewhat unique dynamic here to a western.
As I say it's very much in that gritty western feel of bullets and drunken punches that often miss, bars with swing doors and the women that know their place. If you view for what it is you will enjoy it, if just for Tom Hardy's sexy lead and the gruesome violence. Shia Lebeouf, alas, is annoying as ever and I believe a real plonker on set to the point where Jessica Chastain wanted to leave the film, his idea of off screen method acting of getting leery and drunk on moonshine hardly clever.
It didn't do great box-office and for its $45 million has done $53 million back, these days classed as a failure, mostly because PR costs to plug the movie are really high now and not included in the gross. But for me it's a film to ignore the critics that killed it early on and enjoy it for the effort put in by Hillcoat to make it as atmospheric and fun as it is. If you don't take it seriously then it's a decent two hours of rednecks versus the cops. It was never meant to be Goodfellas and not pretending to be that here.
=== Ratings ===
Imdb.com - 7.3/10.0 (79,324 votes)
Metacritc.com - 58% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 67% critic's approval rating
= = = Special features = = =
- Audio Commentary -
Director Hilcoate and writer Matt Bondurant talk about their rather unique movie.
- Lawless: The true story of the wettest county in the world -
Behind the scenes footage of the movie with cast & crew.
- Frankly County: Then and Now -
A documentary with archive footage and photographs of the prohibition era and the West Virginia bootleggers.
The Guardian -'The American dream starting to go wrong - before it even existed'.
New Yorker -'Don't expect to be carried along by big action and clichéd dialogue, Lawless expects you to do some of the work yourself by immersing yourself in this richly textured world'.
Empire Magazine -'An uneven mix of impressively executed, violent clichés about good ol' boys defending the American right to flout the law'.
TV Guide -'Just as he did in his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Hillcoat creates a very specific and unnerving sense of place in Lawless'.
The Times -'If only LAWLESS weren't such a superficial endeavor, these parts would add up to a very entertaining whole. As is, the movie is fun while it lasts but forgettable soon after'.
The Metro -'Lawless had great potential, but due to a poor storytelling technique that causes the film to be rather dull, we merely end up with a film that just looks good'.
The Film Weekly -'Appropriately solemn and violent, yet strangely lifeless. I imagine a better film was lost in the editing room, and will hopefully be found on Blu-ra'y.
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I recently joined Lovefilm, inspired by Quidco as they were offering a nice £15 Cashback and Lawless was top of my DVD rental list! I had always wanted to see if in the cinema but never got round to it and anyone who knows me knows I LOVE Tom Hardy so it was really only a matter of time.
The film centres around the Bondurant brothers in 1930s, selling and concocting their own alcohol around the Prohibition era in the United States. Based on a true story, we have Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) as the "Godfather" like head of the clan. There is the middle brother, Howard (Jason Clarke) as the violent, alcoholic middle brother and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) as the youngest brother - almost like the runt of the litter. The Bondurants are a force to be reckoned with and notorious in Franklin, until new Special Deputy Rakes (Guy Pearce) swans in and looks to make an example out of them - that no one is invincible.
There are also thin romance lines as our young Jack wants to impress upon the local preacher's daughter Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) and I felt this was a nice addition to the main storyline and I empathised with their blossoming relationship.
Tom Hardy is on excellent form and does an amazing accent from one of the Southern states of America. I was very impressed with his acting (as per usual!) and although his character is a man of few words, with mainly "erms" and grunts, he portrays his character through his body language and his eyes mainly and although he comes across as a rough, violent and formidable character he is extremely likeable. Of course I love Tom Hardy anyway so am always slightly biased, but if he is not up to scratch I will say so and in this he was fantastic and proves his excellent acting skills and made the film really interesting to watch how it develops. By the end you can't help but feel compassion for his toughnut character and you just want to give him a hug even though he doesn't even resemble a hint of a smile.
Shia LaBeouf is also really good and proves himself as a more concrete actor in a role much different to his role in transformers which is what I am more used to seeing him in. I did feel the film predominantly centres around his character Jack and him wanting to prove himself to his older brother Forrest and more the dynamic between the two. The middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke) is not given anywhere near enough airtime and his character is crucially underdeveloped so you do not really get to any kind of grip with his character so I felt a heavy loss of interest in his scenes and couldn't really comment on his on screen presence as it was neither here nor there to the film.
Gary Oldman is brilliant and superb as Lloyd Banner a rival league dealer across state. However, I can practically count how many scenes he is in on one hand! I was amazed at the cheek of the DVD cover that he is forefront as if a main character and he really is not! His character is in and out within a blink of an eye and somewhat seems pointless but nevertheless the time he is on screen he is effortless in oozing gangster appeal and totally convincing.
Guy Pearce is on point as the slick, slimy and all round horrible protagonist of the film. This is one of those films where you really are not on the side of the law enforcer and their corrupt ways but more on the side of the thugs who abandon the laws for their own reasoning. It's a very fast paced film with lots of action and gusto from the off. Without being a spoil sport, it takes a grave injury to Forrest within the first 45 minutes or so of the film for the action and involvement from the other cast to take off and this was one of those films that I really wished lasted longer as it was excellent and my interest never wained in the slightest at any moment.
There are some good bonus features on the DVD:
- Commentary with the author Matt Bondurant and the director.
- Lawless : True story of the wettest county
- Music Video from the soundtrack
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer.
I wasn't too bothered to watch many of the bonus extras but I did watch the deleted scenes out of curiousity and it was nice to see some of the material that didn't make i in the film. None of them were sufficient enough to be explanatory to the storyline but some of them were interesting to see and would not have felt out of place in the film.
The film is rated an 18 which I can agree with as there are some sincere scenes of a violent nature where even I wanted to avert my eyes and wince a bit, but none of it is even a patch of some of the violence I recently watched in Gangs of New York. There is also mild nudity but none to make the film uncomfortable or out of place in such a well directed piece.
Overall I really loved this film and felt the film was excellent and definitely something I would watch again. It is currently £11.97 on amazon as it has been released relatively recently but when it comes down in price, no doubt I will probably treat myself to it with some amazon vouchers :) It will be another to add to my expanding Tom Hardy collection, but nonetheless for fans of a a really well expressed and brilliantly acted Western film this is definitely a film I would recommend.
Based on a book written by a relative of some of the main characters, entitled "The Wettest County In The World."
Released on 7th September 2012 this film is set in Franklin County, Virginia, in Depression-era. It follows a trio of brothers - the Bondurant boys,(who legend has it are immortal) Forrest, hot-headed Howard and cowardly Jack. The brothers run an illegal distillery and bootlegging business. Special Deputy Rakes (one evil son of a gun) arrives from the city and demands a bribe to allow their business to continue. Obviously the brothers refuse and a whole amount of violence follows.
During the film there are fights, guns, knives and a few romantic moments.
This is not the sort of film I would normally go for but my husband wanted to watch it and I must say I really enjoyed it!
Tom Hardy was truly outstanding in his role of Forrest and I am fast becoming a huge fan of his work.
Directed by John Hillcoat and screenplay written by Nick Cave
Forrest Bondurant - Tom Hardy
Jack Bondurant - Shia LaBeouf
Howard Bondurant - Jason Clarke
Charlie Rakes - Guy Pearce
Tagline-"When the law became corrupt, outlaws became heroes"
This is a film that is set during older times of prohibition in the United States,Virginia was at this time nicknamed the wettest county due to the high levels of illegal alcohol being made and sold by outlaw bootleggers,many of the leading gangsters of the day such as Al Capone and Floyd Banner moved to Virginia to make a profit out of bootlegging.
It was during this time three brothers the Bondurants were making a living off there own small scale bootlegging business,the three brothers were named Jack(Shia Labeouf),Howard(Jason Clark)and Forrest(Tom Hardy) and from the beginning it shows Jack as a kid with a gun not being able to shoot a pig so the more ruthless Forrest takes the gun and exterminates the pig showing the difference of the two brothers personalities.
The three brothers own a small station and are selling there bootleg and in the town in which they live the Bondurants have some what of a reputation especially Forrest who is known around town as being indestructible,there set routine in life is soon to come to a end when special deputy Charlie Rakes(Guy Pearce) comes to town taking a large slice of all the bootleggers profits,everybody in town giving in to the power and control this man has.
Except Forrest,Rakes and a couple of his goons pay Forrest a visit to try and intimidate him with not much success as Forrest calmly tells the men "come back you'll leave with a hatchet in your skull.
One thing leads to another and Forrest younger brother Jack is viciously attacked when caught alone by Rakes,the scene is so bad that even someone like me who loves these films found it hard to watch.
And the war goes on as the two sides kidnap,torture and murder each other with the brothers getting there revenge by violent means.
This film is not just about violence as there are some funny moments which break up the seriousness of the film,also some romantic story lines and heart warming emotions make this a all around brilliant film as it pulls at your heart strings as well as being shocking and scary at times.
But the best thing about this film in my opinion is that it is based on a true story as it is amazing these brothers existed and went through the things they did.
One of my favorite actors at the moment Tom Hardy plays the role of tough guy to perfection,as in the past with this actor you truly believe the character he is playing.
This is a film I have watched twice since first watching it a few weeks ago I enjoyed so much I showed it my boyfriend and watched it again,it is ten out of ten for me
The Prohibition era, set in motion by a spectacularly bad and misjudged series of laws passed that forbade alcohol production, sales and consumption across America, gave rise to a rapid formation and growth in gangster culture, corrupt men of the law, and violence. It gives plenty of meaty material for modern day screenwriters to adapt and show the strikingly dark, twisted and brutal chapter in American history. Even from its opening scene, "Lawless" wants us to know that they mean business when it comes to never shying away from the blood. There are three brothers, gathering around to kill a pig. The youngest, Jack, struggles to pull the trigger, and leaves the job for his older siblings. The two older brothers show no hesitation. And so begins the fascinating, highly enjoyable tale of three brothers based on the lives of Matt Bondurant's (the man who penned the novel the film is based on) real-life grandfather and his brothers.
They're the Bondurant brothers (Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Shia LaBeouf), well liked, respected and most importantly, feared, in their neighbourhood of Franklin, Virginia, dubbed the wettest county in America, due to their high level of quality alcohol production, and the people love them for this. They don't cheat, they don't intimidate (unless the situation provokes them to of course), they work hard, they produce, and the deliver, to those who pay. They also make the wise decision of never getting too greedy. Their customers are confined to the nearby, local towns, and to stay under the radar they keep a modest but highly reliable and steady business going.
Forrest (Hardy) is the eldest, spearheading the operation as its figurehead. Legend surrounds the status and reputation of Forrest, with the locals genuinely believing that he is invincible and cannot be destroyed by human means. And as the tough, no nonsense leader of sorts, the film could have picked a more appropriate man than Bane himself, as Hardy's rugged physique, very few words of dialogue and low tone of voice all contribute to him becoming quite the epic anti-hero. When it comes to protecting the things he cares about, whether it's his business or family, he is the one person you would not like to mess with, as the fearless use of his knuckledusters certainly leaves any man on his knees begging for mercy.
Howard (Clarke) is also no stranger when it comes to violence. Standing at a towering height and wide build, he is the true embodiment of brute force, a troll, if you will, true and loyal to his brothers. The best part is how he goes on his rampage always with a smile, somehow enjoying the smaller guys trembling in fear as he charges against them. He is probably the least intelligent out of all three of them, but his simple mind lets him be the way he is; comfortable in his own skin, loving life, kicking back on the front porch, relaxing and enjoying the latest batch of Bondurant-label alcohol, occasionally switching into action mode when violence comes near. And for that Clarke puts on an often menacing yet likable performance, with always a hint of gentle streak even when he's about to pump a guy full of petrol (yes, seriously).
Jack (LaBeouf) is the least experienced, least tough, who is always picked on by not just his brothers, but also those who try to target the Bondurant brothers. Unsatisfied with how underused and undervalued he is around his far superior brothers, Jack becomes more ambitious and starts to think bigger, wanting to earn more money, desiring fame, and attempting to woo a preacher's daughter, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). He ventures into dangerous territory by striking up a deal with a notorious mobster, Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman, in a short, not too crucial, but scene-stealing performance), and although the money flows in, Jack and his naive, eager energy attracts nothing but conflict and disapproving looks from his brothers who were happy with the way things were. LaBeouf is perfectly cast in the role as the youngest Bondurant, too keen for his own good, acting tough but always ending up on the ground with a foot or gun in his face. He's not a character to warm to easily, as his rash thinking and clouded judgement lands not only him in plenty of trouble but LaBeouf, also serving as the film's narrator, plays him with enough appeal and likability to have a good chunk of the film focusing solely on him.
Their flourishing business and almost mythical fame catches the attention of Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a shady, borderline psychotic man of the law who wants a cut in the alcohol distribution business. As a villain Rakes is completely over the top and campy in appearance (his clean suits, his slicked back hair, the gloves etc), a factor that threatens to diminish the evil stature and Pearce's masterful portrayal. But Pearce sustains his fierce, bloodthirsty tone, playing not the most intriguing, but without a doubt an unforgettable one. In a group that is unaffected by the law, he is simply portrayed as the worst behaved lawbreaker of them all, which is why he is the villain, and which is why he has to go.
What "Lawless" notably lacks is character depth. Very little is told about the few women who enter this picture, and we are forced to rely on clichés to fill in the gaps. Wasikowska, always the perfect choice in playing the young, innocent and sweet, is just that, and as the preacher's daughter all the inhibitions and social restrictions apply. As for Maggie (Jessica Chastain) who serves as Forrest's love interest, she's a girl who moved from the city to look for someplace quiet to live in. She sure picked a fine place taking a job in the Bondurants' inn - but as for her back story, that's about it. Chastain's beautifully balanced, quality performance tells us more than what the script originally has in mind, but a lot remains untold, which is a shame, since her chemistry with Hardy is one of the film's many highlights.
Despite leaving the audience in the dark about many of the characters we are told to care about, the film is astonishing to look at. Set in the Wild West, the camera captures not only the gritty, sand-filled deserted land, but occasionally finds time also for the beautiful landscapes as a way of escapism provided not just for its characters but for the audience too. And director John Hillcoat keeps a brisk pace of things, turning a potentially difficult and dense subject matter into something entirely watchable. Plus the upbeat ending, rather an unexpected treat to sum up a gruesome ride, is a fine note to end on.
I saw this film last week and to be honest I'm not a great fan of westerns but knew I had to see it because of the cast...I've become quite a fan of Tom Hardy and was also interested in seeing Shia LaBeouf in a role outside of the Transformers movies. The film is directed by John Hillcoat and was released in UK cinemas on Friday 7th September 2012.
The film is set in the 1930s during prohibition of alcohol in America (ban of alcohol) and it follows brothers Jack, Forest and Howard Bondurant (LaBeouf, Hardy, Clarke) who are running an illegal business selling moonshine in their home county of Virginia. The alcohol is brewed by their young friend Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan) who lives in the same village. The brothers run a bar as a front for what they are actually doing, and Maggie Beauford a dancer from Chicago, arrives asking for a job as their waitress claiming that she wants to escape the city life.
At around the same time the county is assigned a new Special Deputy from the city called Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) who makes it clear to the brothers that his plan is to cut any profits made by bootleggers in the county. Forrest obviously takes an instant dislike to Rakes and swears he will kill him if he bothers them again. Rakes doesn't waste any time in intimidating the main suspected bootleggers which comes in the form of a barrage of threats and violence. He viciously beats Jack, the youngest of the Bondurant brothers. Forrest is also attacked very seriously but in a less direct way.
Despite all of this the men manage to secure a client in the form of Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) and are making an excellent profit after relocating their brewery to a hidden location in the forest. Unfortunately the secret isnt kept for long when Rakes and his men follow Jack to the brewery and seize it from them. What follows is a stand off between the brothers and Rakes and the fate of the men is decided...but I won't give that away!
There are also romantic sub-stories between Jack and a local girl who happens to be the daughter of a local preacher. And a romance develops between Forest and his new waitress Maggie. These sub-stories aren't directly relevant to the actual story but do link in slightly and provide a more emotional level to the film which is otherwise quite hard faced.
I was very surprised to find that I really enjoyed this film from start to finish and am already looking forward to seeing it again, despite it being of a genre that I usually dislike. The plot was more interesting than I expected and despite the situation being so far from one I might experience, I felt myself rooting for the main characters and felt really engaged by the whole storyline. It develops at exactly the right pace allowing the viewer to understand exactly what is going on, and it keeps things simple. I think if it had tried to be clever and complicate things it wouldn't have worked quite as well.
Despite the plot being straightforward, watching the film was still quite challenging but not in a plot understanding sense, more in the sense that what you witness is quite hard to watch. The film is extremely brutal, hence the 18 certification. The levels of violence are quite extreme to the point where I wanted to look away at certain points. Even though I'm not usually a fan of gory violence I felt the film required this to set the scene and to be realistic. Despite this at times the film did choose to imply violence rather than show it in its full glory, and this was quite a relief as certain scenes may have bordered on distasteful had they been shown fully. I felt they used violence only where it was required and relevant to the story, rather than deliberately playing and relying on violent scenes like some films do.
The romantic sub-stories definitely helped the film along too, they gave me something to relate to and prevented some of the main characters from coming across as too cold, thus allowing you to sympathise with them. The sub-stories also brought forward some comical moments which didn't take over the film but allowed a break from the very serious main storyline. Sometimes I think comedy should be kept out of certain films, and normally this would be one of them, however the funny bits actually blended in quite well with the very serious main plot.
By far one of the main things to attribute to the films success is the high standard of acting throughout. Tom Hardy delivered the best performance I've ever witnessed from him. I was already a fan of his, but he has gone up in my estimations even more now. His delivery of Forest was flawless from his expressions to the convincing western accent. He was convincing from the start and it required no time to warm to the character, it was instant. Shia LaBeouf also delivers a good performance, his role is slightly different to Hardy's in that he is younger and required to be more comical than serious for the majority of the film. However there are parts of the film, particularly towards the end, where his character becomes much more complex and serious, and he pulled this off very well.
Jason Clarke who plays the third Bondurant brother, Howard, comes across well and whilst his character isnt as central as the other two, he still makes his mark and combines well with the film and other characters. Guy Pearce makes an excellent villain as Charley Rakes. I felt a dislike to the character immediately which is how it should be, and he carries off the irritating evil character very well. At times he bordered on over-acting and looked slightly unnatural as he may have taken the villain role slightly too far for such a serious film, but overall it was convincing and worked well within the plot.
The setting and production of the film was also very convincing and it was clear a high budget had been put on the film so visually it looked realistic which made the film more enjoyable and easier to get into.
This was a very interesting and different film. Don't be put off by the genre if it isnt your thing as there is more to this film than that. It is worth seeing simply for the cast and performances. The only thing that may be a problem to some is the level of violence within the film, yet the film doesn't play on this, it simply uses it where required to set a scene, therefore it isnt inappropriate.
Based on real events, Lawless tells the tale of the three Bondurant brothers who run their own moonshine operation in Prohibition-era America. When corrupt Special Deputy Charlie Reeks comes to the county, he is determined to ensure that he takes a cut from all illegal moonshine activities. When the Bondurant brothers refuse, a violent battle for supremacy begins to escalate.
Despite some flaws, Lawless succeeds in telling a simple story (essentially a David vs. Goliath tale) in an interesting way. Although it doesn't do anything new (arguably it's Bonnie and Clyde given a re-spray), it is rarely less than interesting. Yes, the pace is perhaps a little too languid at times (there are a few too many "establishing" shots and several wasted sub-plots), but for every weakness, there is plenty to like.
The setting of Lawless is superb. It really captures that sense of lawlessness (appropriately enough) that ruled in rural America in the 1920s; the feeling that laws could be adopted or ignored as the locals saw fit and that it was every man for himself. It captures a sense of what life in Depression/Prohibition America was like and gives Lawless a strong identity and a strong sense of time and place, the muted, washed out colours evoking the dusty, barren feel of rural America. Lawless looks good; but in a way that goes beyond mere aesthetics and the setting is in many ways b as important as characters or plot.
Lawless also captures that spirit through the casual violence. 1920s America was a very violent place full of battles between those enforcing prohibition and those profiting from it. Lawless could certainly not be accused of shying away from this aspect and some might even accuse it of revelling in the violence. Bodies are torn apart by bullets, throats are cut and (in a moment of inspired cartoon-like violence) a character is whacked over the head with a shovel.
Crucially, this violence is not done for the same of violence or generating controversy. It is an important part of the film's main theme, underlining the idea that both sides are willing to do whatever it takes (including dying) to win this deadly battle of wills. Although the violence is quite graphic, it is appropriate to the overall tone. Had the violence happened off-screen or been more subdued, it would have undermined one of Lawless' central messages: that violence is nasty, dirty and painful. As it is, the film is fully deserving of its 18 certificate and if you are of a squeamish disposition, you might not always appreciate its honesty.
Despite the graphic violence, there is actually a rich vein of humour running throughout and it's a lot less dark and a lot more amusing than the initial trailer suggested. Whilst this might be a slight disappointment to some, the lighter tone is well-handled. It's well-integrated into the script and the dialogue and never feels forced, giving some otherwise potentially unlikeable characters a certain charm. Surprisingly, given the violent undertones, there are several genuine laugh-out-loud moments in Lawless.
It's a shame that the somewhat unnecessary coda at the end rather spoils things. It's very clumsy and the tone and style clash with the rest of the film. Whilst it's certainly important to bring viewers up to date with what happened after the events portrayed in the film, this would have been better handles using some simple captions. The end sequence feels artificial and bolted on, as though it was added following initial test screenings.
Despite a strong and varied case, most screen time is given to three key actors: Tom Hardy as Forrest Bondurant, Shia LaBeouf as his slightly weedy brother, Jack and Guy Pearce's sleazy, corrupt special deputy Charlie Rakes. These three essentially drive the film forward and hold it together. Forrest Bondurant is the stubborn brother, willing to risk everything to stand up to the law; Jack is determined to prove his value to his brother and join the family business, despite his nervous disposition, whist Rakes is determined to stop at nothing to make an example of them.
It has to be said that the three fulfil these roles with varying degrees of success. Despite being monosyllabic for much of the film, Tom Hardy makes Forrest Bondurant a deeply likeable character and, despite his stubborn streak, displays a huge amount of charisma. Shia LaBeouf is fine, but is essentially playing the same role he always plays. He's likeable enough (and it's through his eyes that we witness most of the action), but it's nothing special. Guy Pearce's performance is perhaps more likely to divide. His snickering, snorting, supercilious Deputy will annoy some and amuse others. I tended to fall mostly in to the "annoy" category.
Where the script falls down is in wasting other potentially interesting performances and sub-plots. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are under-used as the love interests of Forrest and Jack, given little opportunity to do anything except add a bit of glamour to an otherwise male-dominated cast. This is particularly true of Wasikowska and there was a real missed opportunity to contrast the lawless lifestyle of the Bondurant brothers with the god-fearing upbringing of preacher's daughter, Bertha. Instead, this story is only used for a bit of comic relief. Gary Oldman puts in the briefest of cameos and is cool (but seriously underused) as gangster Floyd Banner. Even third Bondurant brother Howard is underdeveloped and is little more than a constantly drunk muscleman there to protect his two siblings.
It's a real shame more wasn't done with this strong cast of characters and actors. Had they been as well-developed and interesting as the three leads, it would have made for a stronger film and probably have gained it another star. As it is, you can't help feeling there's a lot of wasted potential.
Lawless is probably not the best film that I will see this year, but it's also a long way from the worst. It's also one of those films that I can see myself watching again and, whilst I wouldn't pay full price for it, I'd happily pick up a copy on DVD once it starts to come down in price.
Director: John Hillcoat
Running time: approx. 116 minutes
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