Not that Lawless is the only flick guilty of the forthcoming mini-rant, but the filmmakers and/or studio need to hear/read this. And hopefully, understand it.
Starting a movie with the words, “Based on a true story,” or “Inspired by actual events,” really needs more clarification. And by doing so, you place the viewer’s mind in the proper state to process what is about to be projected out via the screen.
For instance, this 115 minute piece went with the, “Based on a true story,” prompt. After taking it all in, it would have been much wiser to use something like, “This is a true story.” Why? Because with having the word “Based” implanted in one’s mind, automatically makes them think that something was missing or sacrificed in lieu of Hollywood writing. Especially in this case; since the way this telling closes, leaves one with an unsatisfied and perplexed feeling.
Now if the phrase, “This is a true story,” was flashed in red lettering right before this prohibition tale from the 1930’s – that tries to have an old-western tone – then yours truly would be more inclined to praise the filmmakers for keeping to the accuracy of the historical events. Since it doesn’t, and doing research is not something the majority of the moviegoers want or should have to do, then this leads us down a path of questioning their onscreen tactics. And not only will it irk the audience, but it also short-changes the game cast this picture encompasses.
Despite the level of historical accuracy, the main issue to take up with this product is that it is too steady; which is kind of odd, considering it is about backwoods bootlegging between notable big-city gangsters and three small-town brothers – who have a reputation of not trifling with. Then again, the flick’s director, John Hillcoat, did helm the 2009 bore-fest known as The Road – a lethargic journey to nowhere.
A stoic Tom Hardy is the leader of the hardened, yet simple, Bondurant brothers. He, along with Jason Clarke and the quasi-runt of the litter, Shia LaBeouf, run a successful moonshine business in sleepy towns around Franklin County, Virginia.
Life is good for the boys and Hardy is quite satisfied in earning a decent living without becoming greedy. But when a slick big city deputy, played by Guy Pearce, shows up trying to infringe on their business practices, the fearless brothers are not afraid to stand-up to the infamous prohibition players from the city of Chicago. Bullets fly, throats are slit, and an O.K. Corral type showdown is taking shape.
Between the obvious build-up, the camera tends to focus on the brothers’ relationships and personal desires. For instance, LaBeouf is portrayed as the little brother who is eager-to-impress his elder siblings and live the life as the notorious gangsters he crosses path with such as Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman in cameo-mode). He also is trying to court the town’s minister’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska). The courting storyline seems too clichéd in this type of western chronicle, and frankly, it’s fairly boring despite Wasikowska’s talented presence. And seeing LaBeouf in this type of coming-of-age role may be getting tiresome (keep in mind; I see just about all his movies).
Then there’s Hardy, who ends up hiring the out-of-place Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) as his local barkeep. Now if this was how it happened back then, great. However, both these plot points are recycled and telegraphing; though the latter does allow Hardy to inject some subtle comedy into his handful-of-words character when interacting with Chastain.
What is missing is a jolt of life. Acting wise, Dane DeHann, who plays the handicapped boy that has a knack for crafting the best moonshine throughout the state, is a pleasure to watch and provides some spark in his respective scenes. Same can be said for Pearce, for these two guys are enacting characters that counteract the blandness, though oddly charismatic, of Hardy’s guy. But when the quick-jabs of bloody action hit, they quickly fade away and more worthless yapping comes to the forefront.
The viewing experience is very similar to learning the fascinating intricacies of the Civil War. Problem is, the details are being projected out by a monotone old history professor that couldn’t stimulate a Republican National Convention after-party.
Overall, Lawless is spread too thin as it tries to enact a variety of genres (Crime, western, drama). It needed some punch as seen in 1996’s Last Man Standing or 1993’s Tombstone (granted, both those were laced with Hollywood scripting, too). Hell, even 2009’s Public Enemies seemed livelier. Still, if these were the facts, then kudos to the filmmakers and the performers for staying true. But that doesn’t mean it transforms into a riveting cinematic product.
Lawless is rated R and opens in the Tampa Bay market today.