The Road director John Hillcoat is tackling the Prohibition era in Lawless. With a cast of  breakouts and veterans, it’s filled with eye-catching performances. Unfortunately, the film suffers from a few fundamental issues that take it from poignant to mediocre.

The Players:

  • Director: John Hillcoat
  • Writers: Nick Cave, Matt Bondurant (novel)
  • Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Gary Oldman
  • Cinematography by: Benoît Delhomme
  • Original Music by: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

The Plot:

Lawless is based on the novel The Wettest County in the World, written by Matt Bondurant. It centers on his grandfather and great-uncles (Jack, Forrest, Howard), who bootlegged liquor during the Depression. The three men encounter trouble when corrupt Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) wants a cut of their profits. When the Bondurant’s don’t cooperate, it starts an all-out war within the hills of rural Virginia.

The Good:

  • Stand Out Performances: Hardy, Chastain, and Pearce bring their A-game to this period drama. Hardy’s reserved Forrest is the brains of the Bondurant operation. He holds the family together with a silent but stern hand reminiscent of a young Clint Eastwood. Chastain is the woman of the house, who’s not easily intimated and brings a fierceness all her own. While Pearce’s psychotic portrayal of Rakes is both captivating and terrifying to watch.
  • Humor: Despite the serious subject matter, there are moments of light humor. Most of it’s unintentional and comes from Hardy’s Forrest. His social awkwardness brings a few legitimate laughs.

So-So:

  • Graphic Violence: If you have a weak stomach, prepare yourself. Yes, there is violence in this film, but the level might shock you. There are several gruesome scenes filled with bloodshed. For example, one character is brutally beaten to the point that their face is unrecognizable. It’s a little hard to watch.
  • Jack Bondurant/Shia LaBeouf: Jack is the central character and the youngest Bondurant brother. It’s established early on that he’s immature and doesn’t have what it takes to be a man. We’re supposed to watch him grow into someone who can do what’s necessary to protect himself. Unfortunately, that never really happens. He’s written like an annoying child, who can’t follow simple instructions. When he finally gets his comeuppance, it doesn’t feel earned. His brothers are always there. He’s still being supported in some way.
  • Disappearing Act: Where’s Gary Oldman? He plays notorious gangster Floyd Banner, and adds nothing to the story. Don’t get us wrong, anything with Oldman going crazy is worth the cost of admission. But he moved in and out of the movie with no real purpose.

The Bad:

  • Bertha Minnix/Mia Wasikowska: Bertha is the love interest of LaBeouf’s Jack. And they have absolutely no chemistry. This should have been a match made in movie heaven. Bertha’s the preacher’s daughter, and Jack’s a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Yet, they fizzle on screen. A lot of it had to do with the blank performance given by Wasikowska. There was nothing there.

Overall:

Lawless has an impressive cast and a great director, but some of its characters need work. The main protagonist being one of them. If you can move around Jack and focus on the solid performances of his peers you could really enjoy yourself.

The Rating: 7/10

Lawless opens in theaters August 29.

Photo Gallery:

 

Trailer:

 

Will you be seeing Lawless this week?