“Lawless” is the type of film that I wanted to be a best picture nominee, but due to editing and a long-winded plot it doesn’t quite deliver. The cast is amazing, the cinematography is great, the scenery is stunning, and the soundtrack really adds depth to the film, but that just isn’t enough.
The problems really set in when you realize the pacing in the film is off, that huge chunks of the movie are missing, and most of the cast is using a horrible southern accent.
The story follows the three Bondurant brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke) that run a bootlegging operation during the depression up in the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia. Crooked Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce) is after a share of the brothers’ profits. When Forrest (Hardy) is wounded as tension with Rakes escalates, Jack (LaBeouf), initially the timid one, must prove his worth against gangster Floyd Banner’s (Gary Oldman) mob, and we see him turn into a cocky exhibitionist in his attempts to woo the preacher’s daughter, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).
The cast really delivers (aside from some poor southern accents from some people), but the people I wanted to see more of were either relegated to supporting roles or cut almost entirely.
Gary Oldman (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) is billed as a starring cast member, but his role as a gangster from the city was cut down to almost nothing. He shows up for, at most, 10 minutes in this movie. The scenes he has he really dominates (as per usual), but it leaves you wanting more.
The rest of the cast really sank into their roles well, but everyone was made to play second fiddle to Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers”). LaBeouf did good enough to not drag the film down, but at the same time his performance didn’t seem natural (as if he was trying to hard), and it really shows on film and detracts from his character.
Surprise performances were turned in by Jason Clarke (TV’s “Chicago Code”) and Dane DeHaan (“Chronicle”) as these are the best they have ever been in just about anything. This film gave me hope for them as actors, and I actually hope I get to see them in more films.
Guy Pearce (“Momento”) played the creepy Charlie Rakes with gusto, and I think he will be up for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Tom Hardy (“Warrior”) dominated the role of Forrest Bondurant, and secures his place in Hollywood as a leading man.
The women (Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska) really contributed nothing more to the plot than being beautiful, and providing a little humanity to one of the boorish Bondurant brothers.
The plot/editing is really my only huge gripe with this film. Nick Cave (“The Proposition”) is a composer by trade, and, including this movie, has only written three movies, and that shows. He took what should have been an hour and 45 minute long film at most, and made it so bloated that they had to edit out Gary Oldman to save time, and it’s still two hours long.
This type of issue is not one unknown to director John Hillcoat (“The Proposition”) whose 2009 film “The Road” suffered from the same issue. He tends to care more about making the environment a character, with long shots of scenery, instead of moving the plot along. If I was watching something on Discovery Channel I would appreciate this more, but when a crime drama leaves you looking at your watch you know you have a problem.
The violence in this movie is gritty, and true to the time period. You can’t help but believe that this is exactly how things were handled back in the rural parts of the country in the 30s. There are a few bloody, almost gut-wrenching scenes, but as a whole it was a lot tamer than I was expecting.
All the nudity in “Lawless” seems to have been written in for no reason. There is a scene with Jessica Chastain nude, that is used to show the human side of Tom Hardy’s character, but it really seems out of place for a film like this. They could have just as easily accomplished everything they wanted to without the nudity.
Despite its flaws in pacing and editing the movie is entertaining, and works as a great look back to that era. Everyone really came together, and worked well together. Gary Oldman really got the shaft this time around being cut to almost nothing, but that is how Hollywood works.
The characters, script (the movie is surprisingly funny at times to lighten the dark mood), environment, and music all work really well together. The bloated plot drags the film a bit, and leaves us with a film that could have been amazing, but at the end of the day just fails to deliver. “Lawless” is a 3.5/5 for me, and I can’t wait to see the deleted scenes on Blu-Ray.
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