Sunday, 9 September 2012


Lawless is a prohibition era gangster biopic about three brothers from Virginia. Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest of the brothers and lacks the courage, strength or attitude to violence that his older brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clark) possess. Forrest especially is a sort of Clint Eastwood figure; strong, silent and deadly. All three are involved in the moonshine business but their trade comes under threat when a new Special Deputy (Guy Pearce) arrives from Chicago to put a halt to their operations.

The film shares traits with Director John Hillcoat’s previous film The Proposition. Both focus on brothers outside the law in semi-desolate locations who must battle across a thin line between right and wrong against corrupt officials. The visually stunning but run down locations and decaying beauty also help bring to mind Hillcoat’s The Road. This film though is more of a coming of age story as young Jack Bondurant fights for respect from his brothers and the gangster who inhabit his world. It is also a tale that blurs the lines between good and evil, right and wrong with the Bondurant boys becoming anti heroes who the audience will be routing for from start to finish.

The great strength of Lawless is its beauty. The film is stunning to look and you never for one minute think that you aren’t in depression hit, rural Virginia. The sets are dressed to pinpoint perfection and the costumes look lived in. The cinematography too is beautiful and this really helps to act as a counterweight to another side of the film – its gruesome violence. At times this is an uncomfortable film to watch. The violence is reminiscent of Drive in that it sometimes comes out of the blue but often you are aware that you are being led towards it but are still stunned when it arrives. The film features beatings, stabbings, shootings and slitting of throats but it never feels gratuitous. You always get the sense that it is vital to the story. Something which isn’t so vital to the storytelling but is delightful nonetheless is the sight of Jessica Chastain naked (well topless anyway). Some people (not me of course) might say that is worth the price of admission alone.

As well as a great amount of violence, the film also has several moments of great comedy. In the packed screening I was in there was one huge laugh and at least five or six chuckles from the large audience. A lot of the humour comes from Tom Hardy’s violent but understated and confused ex-soldier character and the legend that the brothers are immortal. We learn early on that he was the only survivor of his company during the Great War and his traumatic past is clear to see in his character and performance. Hardy is once again the standout actor, something which I’m getting used to writing these days. His grunts, menace and confused looks with regard to Chastain’s character made the film for me and his performance in general helped me to decide on the higher grade when I couldn’t decided between of two different marks out of ten. Shia LaBeouf also helps to wash away the memories of the Transformers movies with a solid and mature performance and third brother Jason Clark plays the drunken brute well. Another great performance comes from Guy Pearce whose hair, speech and mannerisms seem to come from another world. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska unfortunately suffer a little from lacklustre female characters as neither have an awful lot to do. Neither leaves the production having tarnished their reputations though. Gary Oldman is excellent but his role is very small.  Nick Cave’s score works very well with the visuals and ads to the prohibition-hillbilly feel of the film.

I was never bored while watching Lawless and it looked great and was wonderfully acted by Hardy in particular, but it sometimes feels as though there are too many characters vying for too little screen time. I would also have preferred for the focus of the story to have been with Hardy’s character instead of LaBeouf’s as his arc was more interesting to me. Even so, Lawless is definitely an above average gangster flick and hits the mark with its dramatic and sometimes comedic and violent tone.


1 comment:

  1. Once again our takes on a film are very similar! I also thought of Drive with regards to the violence, but your right that it was never gratuitous.