“Lawless” is a good middle-of –the- road film that falls short of greatness by tripping on its own feet.
“Based On A True Story,” a phrase that has never strained credulity more than in this film, “Lawless” is about the infamous Bondurant Brothers of Franklin County, Virginia during the 1930’s. They’re Bootleggers with a sense of honor that sets them apart from both “the Law” and the gangsters who want to drive them out of business.
The oldest brother, Forrest, is played with a low grumble by Tom Hardy, who’s been better in pretty much every other film in which he’s starred, and yet his “more with less” approach to the character makes Forrest an interesting, enigmatic man worth trying to figure out. He’s fiercely loyal to those on the right side, and will shoot someone dead without a second thought, if they’re against him. He’s all about the business, and its old-fashioned ways. But change is-a-comin’.
Guy Pearce shows up to the hills, fresh from Chicago, as a sadistic lawman with more than criminal justice on his mind: he’s there to get in on the action. Pearce seems to play his effete dandy for high camp—if he had a moustache to twirl, he wouldn’t have a free hand to hold a rifle. As it stands, he doesn’t even have eyebrows-a touch that adds to the creepiness. I was waiting for him to tie a damsel to the train tracks, but…no luck.
So, with the main good guy and main bad guy cast, let us turn our sites on Shia LaBeouf, who plays the wide-eyed youngest brother in the most literal sense: he actually keeps his eyes opened wide. Combine that with a southern accent you might hear at a theme park Wild West show, and you’ve got the weakest link of the movie, and the source of some unintentional laughs. He stumbles around like he’s in “Indiana Jones and Tabacky-Spittin’ Bad Fellers.”
So, what’s good? In a word or two, the violence. The film counter-balances the Tom Sawyer-ish take on LaBeouf’s storyline, as he courts (of course) the Preacher’s daughter, by giving us some truly thrilling scenes that include gory violence and people who genuinely look like they could carry it out. It’s almost like “Boardwalk Empire Lite”; all of the blood and sudden terror, with none of that fancy “writin’” to get in the way. The great Gary Oldman gets only a couple of scenes, but instills fear with little more than a look—we see how LaBeouf’s character both fears and admires the gangster simultaneously.
Indeed, the moments where the film earns its “R” rating are, frankly, the most engaging. Of course, it’s not violence and swear words that make a movie good—it’s when a movie feels real that it reaches the pot of gold, or jar of moonshine. “Lawless” has just enough of those “real” moments to make it worth watching.
“Lawless” is rated “R” for violence, language and nudity. It’s playing in the following Area Theaters