I’m a man who loves movies about the 1930’s. I don’t really know why. Perhaps it’s just period pieces in general that I love. Anyways I won’t sit here and type out my love letter to the American Outlaw. I am here however to write to you my critique of John Hillcoat’s new film “Lawless”.
With Hillcoat’s previous film entries still fresh in my memory; I entered the theater today with a sort of happy go lucky skip in my step. Odd considering how grim and violent his last two pieces of film making were. Being the director of such films as “The Proposition” and “The Road”, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I’m happy to say that I did not walk out of the theater disappointed and I got to keep that skip in my step.
While being flawed, “Lawless” is a film that embraces its subject matter and with it creates a truly grim and believable atmosphere. It is beautifully filmed and its cast of fine actors give great, damn near Oscar worthy performances. Set in Virginia during the prohibition ere; “Lawless” is the story of three brothers who tried as best they could at taking hold of the American dream. I’m talking about the Bondurant Brothers: Forest, Jack, and Howard.
The story of “Lawless” is plausible and well done, but it’s everything we’ve seen and heard before from this genre. However, in the end it is still a good tale and it’s the characters housed within it that make this movie worth the price of admission. Hear me! This cast is brilliant! “Lawless” stars Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, and Jason Clarke. If you don’t know who these actors are, then you haven’t been a very good movie goer the last eight years.
Shia LaBeouf, who never needed to prove himself to me, has finally given a performance to be remembered. Shia plays the character of the Jack, the younger Bondurant brother. Jack is a naive young man who sees the world from behind his two older brothers Forest and Howard. All Jack wants is to get a piece of his brother’s business. Leaving his comfort zone, Jack tries to cut himself off some of the action. While his intentions prove admirable, the Hell that comes down upon his head is severe.
While being unforgivable in his naivety at times, Shia brings with him a strong sense of sympathy. He is trying to live large in a world he doesn’t fully understand. His older brothers however know the law of the land and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke bring to life the characters of Forest and Howard Bondurant. Hardy who is just coming off of “The Dark Knight Rises” switches gears here entirely. He leaves behind his blood lust for anarchy and brings to the table a different alter ego. Hardy brings a stoic clarity to his character. Forest may seem slow witted on his surface, but underneath he is calculating and he will bring with him the wrath of God upon the heads of all those who think less of him.
“Lawless” is filled to the brim with fine performances. Oldman plays crazy as well as he has always done. Pearce and Chastain are inspiring! They take their characters in wholly and never turn back. Pearce takes the films antagonist, Charley Rakes, and performs him without flinching. This man is an evil, sociopath killer. That description only scratches the surface of Rakes’ being. Chastain is beautiful as always and with that she brings strength and fortitude to the story of her character.
I could talk all day about what “Lawless” does right, but eventually I’ll need to discuss its flaws. Having a story that is based on true events creates a gamble for every director and audiences alike. We’re not always going to get a perfect story and it will have its flaws. Director John Hillcoat never really gets “Lawless” firing on all its pistons. There are unresolved plot lines and characters that drop out of existence. “Lawless” is not a movie to shy away from violence either. It didn’t faze me, but for some I could see it being too much. That being said, I will reiterate that this movie is beautifully filmed and its ensemble cast is awe inspiring.
“Lawless” strives with every tooth and nail to prove itself as being an epic and noteworthy story. In many ways it succeeds, but this will not be a view shared by all. “Lawless” is grim, bloody, and while flawed; this is one movie that will not be going quietly into the night.