Lawless seems to have everything needed in order to be a successful western: An all-star cast, interesting characters and a tried-and-true basic premise. What it lacks is substance.
Based on the novel, “The Wettest County in the World,” and based on a true story, it follows three brothers who ran a moonshine operation during the prohibition in Franklin County, Virginia. The Bondurant brothers had a reputation of being invincible, as many of them should have died numerous times, surviving war, famine, and disease throughout their lives.
Tom Hardy plays the oldest and most dangerous Bondurant, Forrest, whereas Shia LaBeouf plays Jack, the youngest and most innocent – the “Michael Corleone” of the three. The middle brother, Howard (Jason Clarke), is present but not given much to do except follow the other two around.
When a shady new deputy (a slime-ball played by Guy Pearce) rolls into town and wants a piece of their illegal bootlegging operation, the proud Bondurants refuse. You can guess what happens next.
Lawless has a bunch of familiar themes and characters thrown in to the same film seemingly without much thought, and the result is a movie that resembles a western without possessing the spirit of a good one. None of the characters are given decent motivations, and some – namely a mobster played by Gary Oldman – seem to have no purpose whatsoever.
To reference The Godfather once again, when Michael was sucked into the world of crime, we knew clearly why, and he seemed to have no other choice. In Lawless, Jack wants in to the family business because – well, that’s what the younger brother is supposed to do in movies such as this.
Jessica Chastain is a bar maid with a past, and although she is always pitch-perfect, her character is another one that is under-developed and under-used. Two actors from HBO’s In Treatment show up – Mia Wasikowska as the preacher’s daughter and object of affection to young Jack, and Dean DeHaan as a young crippled boy who helps out the Bondurants – and neither are fleshed out. Things happen in the film that we are supposed to care about, that frankly, I could have given a damn about.
As far as a mindless trip to the theater, Lawless is entertaining enough, and keeps moving at a pretty fast click. It just seems like it could have been much more.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Western
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Gary Oldman
Opens locally on Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 (check for show times).
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