Lawless (2012) – Review

3 1/2 Stars


Lawless is a brilliantly rendered tale, with a simple but masterfully constructed story. Set on the back roads of Franklin County, VA. in the 1920s during the prohibition, when this small area was considered to be the wettest county in the world. More moonshine poured out of the Virginia hillsides than in any other part of the Untied States. These distilleries were run by country boys, operating in juncture with the local police force to maintain open transportation lines. Business is good, until a Chicago-based gangster and a corrupt special deputy come to town looking to take a portion of the lucrative operation. The Bondurant brothers, Forrest, Howard and Jack, are perhaps the most feared of the local bootleggers. Forrest is something of a mythical figure, on account of him surviving the great war and the Spanish flu epidemic that claimed his platoon and his parents. The townsfolk refer to Forrest as, ‘Indestructible’. A moniker that is tested repeatedly throughout the course of this hypnotic, and brutal film.

The narrative is seen through the perspective of Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest of the trio and the runt. LaBeouf is very good here in a role that is more subdued than his work in recent years. He seems like a boy in the midst of killers, making his gradual transformation into a murderer all the more effective. Tom Hardy is reminding me more and more of Sean Penn, with his soft spoken delivery and heavy presence on screen. There is a scene at the mid-way point that takes place in a hospital, Hardy is able to convey clearly his emotions in a single glance. He is more expressive with his eyes than some actors are with whole monologues, maybe it was all that practice working behind the mask of BANE in The Dark Knight Rises. The real wild card here is Guy Pearce as Charley Rake, a special deputy who quickly reveals himself to be a well-groomed snake. Pearce chooses to play the character with such reckless abandon it is surprising he doesn’t actually chew the scenery. It’s the kind of memorably creepy depiction of a lunatic that could put Pearce in the Best Supporting Actor race come next Oscar ceremony.

John Hillcoat’s direction doesn’t call attention to itself, yet every scene is handled with solid professionalism. His work is matched by the equally impressive cinematography by Benoît Delhomme and Chris Kennedy’s production design, which both aid in capturing the seedy atmosphere of gin-joints and smoke filled back rooms. Lawless is essentially about compelling characters doing extremely unpleasant things to one another. If you can stomach the violence, this is a must-see. One of the best film of 2012, so far.

Director: John Hillcoat
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce

3 thoughts on “Lawless (2012) – Review

  1. i really wanted to see this….but i’ve heard how violent it is so i’m hesitant. hmmm…maybe wait to rent it so i don’t waste so much $ when i’m closing my eyes for a good portion of the movie!! lol

  2. Jason,

    I wish I could tell you that I graded the movie as high as you did. The best way for me to describe it is ‘I liked it, but didn’t love it.’

    I’ll agree with liking the Shia and Tom Hardy, and without a doubt Guy Pearce steals the film. However, I was completely let down by what equated to nothing more than a cameo by Gary Oldman; whom I loved in the short amount of time he was on-screen. I also took issue with how quickly Charlie Rakes, all by himself, was able to convince everyone it was his way or the high way. There were a few other issues I had with the film, but to get into them would be too spoilerish.

    By no means did I not like the movie though, I should have said that in the beginning. I thought the acting was top notch, including an underrated performance by Dan DeHaan, I thought the Cinematography was excellent as well. In the end I was left with a feeling of wanting more.

    1. I think what I appreciated most about Lawless, was that it didn’t make moonshine runners look glamorous. In other movies they romanticize these guys like rebel outlaws with a heart of gold. Here danger lurked on every run and the feeling of dread every time they went out was palpable. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. Agreed Oldman is seen only fleetingly and the film would have benefitted from more of him. In short I like it as much as Hillcoat’s ‘The Proposition’

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