Friday, September 7, 2012

Lawless


Lawless is a western we’ve seen a dozen times over. That isn’t meant to sound like an indictment. More of a challenge, really.

See, if a movie with a story as old as the genre itself is brave enough to be subjected to criticism, then it better present its tale with heavy doses of revisionist flavor. If not, then we’re likely to become (and stay) bored. And as gently and accurately as I can put it, John Hillcoat’s Lawless is a fresh mix of both of those notions. Its story is tired, but its execution is refreshing, resulting in utter indifference. From me, anyway.

Lawless tells the true story of the Bondurant brothers. Virginia outlaws who, during the throes of Prohibition, slang some of the best moonshine in the state. When a new, city slickin’ sheriff (or whatever the hell he is) comes to town and demands that the Bondurant’s pay him a tax or get the hell out of dodge, the brothers hold up and ignite a southern war.

Painfully familiar, sure. But worthy, maybe.

Helping to add merit is the troupe of fine actors involved including Shia LaBeouf (as youngest brother, Jack), Jason Clarke (as boozer middle brother, Howard), and Tom Hardy (as the strong but silent oldest brother, Forrest). At least one of these guys, namely LaBeouf and Hardy, are in damn near every scene of the film. The movie rests on their shoulders, and they carry it through beyond what the moderately weak script offers them.
The showstopper, it must be said, is Guy Pearce, who plays Chicago enforcer, Charlie Rakes with more charm and slime than you can possibly imagine. With his high-pitched voice, perfectly tailored suits, and generally psychopathic demeanor, Pearce steals every single frame he is on screen. And when Rakes isn’t in the mix, you keep counting the minutes until he shows up again. It’s a fantastic (yet, again, underwritten) villain that Pearce does wonders with.

Criminally underused are Gary Oldman, as a reigning local thug, Jessica Chastain, as Hardy’s new woman, and Mia Wasikowska, as LaBeouf’s love interest. And it is the lack of development of these characters that can be applied to all of the film’s major faults.
Look, when Lawless hits, it hits hard. Its violence is fast, furious, and appropriately brutal. But when failed deals aren’t going down, the movie is simply uninteresting. It’s hard for me to recall any of the witty banter the Bondurant’s ceaselessly seem to engage in – I found myself that removed.

Hillcoat brought a similar revisionist flare to his miraculous The Proposition seven years ago. That film is 12 minutes shorter than Lawless, and damn if you can’t tell. Where Lawless drags, The Proposition propelled. Is Lawless worth your time? I suppose, for the actors alone. But you’re far better off checking out The Proposition instead. C

29 comments:

  1. Eh. I really didn't like The Proposition, so if that's better than this, I think I'll pass...

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    1. Ha, yes, definitely. I highly doubt you'd dig Lawless.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. Sounds dissapointing despite the cracking cast list...

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  3. This movie was a lot of fun in an old-school, 30's gangster flick kind of way and I think that's where my main attraction to this was. Oh, that and Pearce's incredibly over-the-top villain. He's having so much fun with it and that makes it so much better to watch. Good review Alex.

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    1. That's cool that you enjoyed it so much... it just didn't fully work for me. Pearce was awesome though.

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  4. Not worth seeing for the great actors in it? I'm still debating after reading your review...

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    1. If it IS worth seeing, then it is because of the actors. Depends how much you like them. Story is so-so.

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  5. This is really unfortunate. Shia is a good actor...just needs to shut his mouth more.

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    1. Haha truth truth. I haven't minded him in a handful of flicks, and he's actually pretty good here, but his public persona can be a tad too much sometimes.

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  6. Nice review, Alex. You're right that a tried-and-true story challenges the filmmaker to make it 'fresh' and sounds like this one doesn't quite hit the mark. I'm still curious about the Prohibition era tale and also Guy Pearce's performance. But I'm happy just renting it later.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, renting is a wise choice here, I think. Not worth the dough-ray-me for the theater.

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  7. I am not generally a fan of Westerns or tales of bootlegging outlaws, so if this isn't spectacular, I'll probably skip it, even when it comes to DVD. And you wouldn't believe how picky I am about what I'll actually pay the price of a movie ticket to watch. Probably makes me a "bad" movie buff, but let's face it, I'm cheap. ;-)

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    1. Hey, movies are crazy expensive, so I completely get it. No sense in paying for a film it doesn't seem like you'll enjoy in the slightest!

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  8. Great review! I'm indifferent on the film as well. I'd give it a halfhearted B/B-, but just barely. Glad you mentioned Shia LaBeouf amongst the "fine actors". ;) Solid performances, but The Proposition is WAY better.

    You know the film has a shot at an Oscar nod, right? The studio is pushing Willie Nelson's original song "Midnight Run" (don't even remember it in the film), and it could possibly get in with 5 nominees.

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    1. Yeah I heard about the Midnight Run push as well. I don't remember that song at all either. Oh well. I could get behind a push for Pearce, but that'll never happen.

      We shall see.

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  9. Good review Alex, I get where you're coming from. I think I liked it more than you, but I do agree it doesn't always hit the stop- actually the problem is, and I've been noticing this for a lot of films lately, it fails to impress in one way or another, and that is not helpful at the end of the day. Guy Pearce was fantastic, I think it's safe to say we will be seeing him as a Supporting Actor nominee in the awards season!

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    1. Oh god I hope Pearce gets in there during awards season. That would be remarkable. But given the general indifference toward the film, a nomination for any actor in this flick could be tough.

      And yeah, this movie impressed me, but only for short spells at a time. Oh well.

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  10. I think I'm out for this simply because I didn't think The Proposition was as thrilling as everybody else. I liked it, but the praise heaped on it skewed my expectations big time.

    I am intrigued by the cast, and there isn't much else out. I guess I'm on the fence.

    Solid review!

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    1. Thanks! To be honest, if you didn't dig The Proposition all that much, and if you're on the fence about Lawless, I'd just wait until DVD. Definitely not worth theater admission.

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  11. Good piece Alex. There are too many negative reviews of this film appearing to suggest it is nothing more than average at best. No wonder it wasn't released in a prime summer spot.

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    1. Yeah, exactly. It isn't good, and it isn't horrible. It just...is.

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  12. I really don't understand why would someone who got Oldman and Chastain in their movie would waste them? Seems so silly. Great review, I'm gonna wait for DVD to see this one, curious about Pearce's character!

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    1. Yup, I completely agree with you. Seems like such a waste. DVD is the way to go here.

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  13. "Look, when Lawless hits, it hits hard. Its violence is fast, furious, and appropriately brutal. But when failed deals aren’t going down, the movie is simply uninteresting."

    I think this sums up the movie perfectly dude!!

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    1. Thanks man! Cool that we agreed on this one.

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  14. "John Hillcoat’s Lawless is a fresh mix of both of those notions. Its story is tired, but its execution is refreshing, resulting in utter indifference"

    My thoughts exactly. The opening scene with the pig tells you everything that is going to happen in this film and THAT is unforgivable.

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    1. Yes sir, you are absolutely right. I really wanted to like this film more, but I honestly haven't thought about it at all since seeing it.

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