Movie Review: Lawless

Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy in Lawless
Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy in 'Lawless' - Photo © The Weinstein Company

Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

Coming off work like The Proposition and the excellent Red Hill (it’s okay if you’ve never heard of it but you should watch it), I was excited for director John Hillcoat’s latest film Lawless. It boasts an impressive cast including Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman (in a small role), and Sam Witwicky.
Wait a second; I have to read something back to myself.
Sam Witwicky? That can’t be right, that’s the stupid kid from Transformers who acts like each line of dialogue follows two lines of cocaine. Hmm, no, that’s right. It’s that kid from Transformers.
Well, there went my expectations as he’s not only in the film but basically the central character amongst a three-brother set-up (himself, Tom Hardy & Jason Clarke). Local legends in rural Virginia during the Prohibition era, when they’re not running moonshine they’re perpetuating area myth of their indestructibility; most notably Hardy’s character who seems to come through all manner of incidents like he’s the prototype for Jason Voorhies. This was based on a true story though I’ve done zero research to determine what liberties were taken.

Conflict arises when the powers that be try to crack down on the brothers’ illicit activities and bring in a special deputy from the big city of Chicago (Guy Pearce). He’s a piece of work and his fastidiousness belies a sadistic nature he’s all too happy to let loose now and again. It’s only a matter of time before a serious showdown has to take place and it’s after that predictable conclusion that the audience is released from the theater.
At its core, Lawless does what it sets out to do. It’s a well-shot, well-crafted examination of the time period and the inhabitants of Virginia’s less urban areas. For the most part, the acting falls in line with what Hillcoat seems to be striving for. I, of course, have issues with the kid from Eagle Eye as he continues to exude nothing but cocky bravado and crocodile tears. What promise he showed extremely early in his career has apparently been overtaken by the smoke blown up his skirt as a result. Every time I started to latch onto the other characters, his smug face appeared and broke the connection.
The film is quite violent at times, though not in any gratuitous fashion. The quantity of blood falls in line with the viciousness of the characters, though it’s appropriately amplified by the inclusion of multiple characters wrapped up in the brothers’ circle who are moral opposites; so pure of heart as to sometimes cross over the believability line. To that end, the film takes a sharp turn as the third act comes to a close and becomes like some campfire tall tale. It elicited laughter from the audience, probably thankful for a respite from the violence, and didn’t really sit with the manner in which the film had been set up for the majority of the runtime.
I suppose the fairest thing I could say about the film is that for people who enjoy the genre and don’t find Shia LaBeouf repulsive, Lawless will probably meet your expectations. I like the genre but there was simply too much Shia to ignore and I can’t quite give the film a true passing grade. I would still be eager to see Hillcoat’s work in the future but hope he’s a bit pickier when it comes to his lead actor.
Lawless hits theaters on August 29, 2012 and is rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity.