Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lawless - Theatrical Review

Release Date: August 29, 2012

There is something oddly lacking from this otherwise well acted and entertaining look at the true life events that occurred in Franklin county circa 1931.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 10:20 pm August 29, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 55 min
Studio: The Weinstein Company

Loves: Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman
Likes: Tom Hardy, Historical period piece crime dramas
Neutral: Shia Labeouf, Mia Wasikowska
Hates: Mediocrity, directionless narratives
Other titles it has gone by: "The Wettest County in The World", "The Promised Land" and "Wettest County"

It is 1931 and the Prohibition Act is in full effect with the Great Depression taking hold of the nation. While popular gangsters for the era such as Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) profit from exploiting the new law within the city, the Bondurant brothers, Jack (Shia LaBeouf) the youngest, Forrest (Tom Hardy) the oldest and Howard (Jason Clark) the craziest, make a living outside the confines of the city by selling their own particular brand of moonshine out in Franklin County, Virginia. Once word spreads of their lucrative business however, a corrupt local judge sends in Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) to make a deal with the brothers but instead of a deal, they make a vendetta.

Not all movies are meant to be epic, but that doesn't stop director John Hillcoat from trying his damnedest to achieve that lofty goal. "Lawless", based off true events, is a film that on its surface is a very simple tale involving family, loyalty and corruption, but it constantly seems to want to be so much more than that by adding in all these extra layers, some fleshed out and others just there to add unneeded complexities. The film gets just about as much right as it gets wrong which can be attributed mostly to the sporadic nature of its near 2 hour long run time.

The Bondurant brothers.

First its about the brothers, then it's about the prohibition act, then it's about a town under siege, then it's about a boy growing up, then it's about being outlaws, then it's about fighting back, then it's about falling in love and eventually all of those things are happening at the same time but never come together in a satisfying way. The film's narrative never seems quite sure what it wants to focus on from moment to moment resulting in none of the characters ever truly getting their due.

Which is a damn shame since all the actors are top notch across the board. Tom Hardy proves he is one of the most diverse actors working today with a performance that could have easily come off as either too comical or too subdued, but finds the perfect middle ground while also making Forrest feel like a force to be reckoned with. Shia LaBeouf does his best to NOT ruin the film and surprises with a more than adequate performance as the younger brother trying to grow up.

Franklin County's biggest export.

The supporting cast however, while all good in their respective roles, felt more like a distraction to the main story as opposed to adding anything substantial to the film with there being only two real exceptions.  Dane DeHaan as Cricket who actually garnered some real sympathy as Jack's crippled friend and Guy Pearce as Rakes. Pearce in particular turns in yet another inspired scene stealing performance as this very strange individual with a varied set of eclectic oddities that combine to make one of the most bizarre and entertaining villains of the year.

It should be mentioned that this film is R rated and it certainly earns it. Peppered throughout the film are these sudden outbursts of extreme violence that will most likely blindside a few viewers who were lulled into a sense of calm by it's many quieter moments. When you see Forrest grip his trusty set of brass knuckles you had better be prepared to wince and cringe as he decimates anyone who gets in his way. While most action junkies will get some cheap thrills from the showdowns, it is highly likely that some may get turned off by the excessive amount of brutality on display here.

Charlie Rakes doesn't like being called a Nance.

By far the film's greatest detractor is its sometimes directionless narrative. One of the best examples of this is just after Rakes delivers a severe beating to one of the brothers early on in the film, and while it is explained why there is no retaliation for the act, it still feels strange that these men who threatened the life of Rakes if he showed his face at their home again would let it go that easily. It is one of those moments where the audience is primed to see some justice get served and it never happens, at least not until the finale. With a villain as entertaining as Rakes, it is a crime to keep him off screen as often as he is here.

Instead we see Jack begin courting the local preacher's daughter (Mia Wasikowska) for the next half hour or Forrest get in touch with his more sensitive side with his live in bar keeper Maggie (Jessica Chastain) while Rakes essentially disappears from the film. Much of the more interesting bits such as how the moonshine is made and the brother's rise to power are unfortunately relegated to some quick montages in lieu of those less interesting aspects. Perhaps it wouldn't have been as uninteresting as everything else if we actually cared about their relationships, but the film never spends enough time with them to let that happen. It's all reflective of how the film just can't figure out what parts to show and what not to show.

Jack finally mans up.

As strange as this may sound however, none of that makes the film unwatchable or fatally flawed. The reason that isn't detrimental to it is because everything else about it is so strong. The acting, the perfectly recreated and authentic setting and even its excessive violence all come together to make the film rise above its inherent problems and still be a moderately entertaining crime flick when all is said and done. As it stands currently, it is a decent enough distraction during the usual dead time following the mammoth summer movie season but nothing that can't wait for a home video release. See it if you have an affinity for the cast or the period it takes place in but just be warned that there is little else to hold your interest beyond that unfortunately.





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