Established May 2010.

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Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Movie Review: LAWLESS

Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman

Bootlegging was the term for the illegal smuggling of alcohol during the Prohibition era. The Bondurant Brothers left their mark on Franklin County, Virginia as moonshine bootleggers. Forrest (Hardy), Jack (LaBeouf), and Howard (Clarke) have their turf and are not to be messed with unless you want to end up a bloody mess. They are known to have an "invincible" status. A group of lawmen led by Charlie Rakes (Pearce) from Chicago have stepped in and threaten the brothers in an attempt to share in their moonshine profits. While the brothers and the rest of the locals are living a shabby, dusty, and dirty life, Rakes comes in dressed in his finest clothes, gloves, and finely styled hair. His eyebrows have been so finely plucked they are barely noticeable.

Your standard bar brawl turns vicious one night at the Bondurant's saloon. Forrest wins the fight between the men and drags them out of the saloon. Along with his bar maid, Maggie (Chastain), he closes up the saloon for the night and heads out to his car. The gentlemen from the fight retaliate by attacking him and slashing his throat. Maggie happens to drive back to the saloon not knowing the fate of Forrest and gets bruised and beaten herself. Forrest stays true to his invincible self and survives the attack. Jack vows for revenge on the men and Rakes all the while trying to carry on the family business and wooing the local preacher's daughter (Wasikowska).

The movie is based on the book "The Wettest County in the World" by Matt Bondurant who is the grandson of Jack Bondurant. Like most movies based on real life figures, there is an antique photo of the real brothers that starts the final credits. Singer/Songwriter Nick Cave wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the movie. The storytelling is a bit choppy at times. The beginning of the movie feels very slow. It seemed as if Cave didn't know how to set up the characters or how to start the story before the catalyst that drives the rest of the movie happens. I get irritated when I feel like I don't know where the story is going. There could be far more depth and urgency with the story as well as the characters. The characters could have been written with more specificity instead of seeming like stereotypes. You've got the strong but silent brother, the young anxious brother, the flamboyant villain, the Tommy Gun toting gangster, the bar maid, and the quiet church girl.

Despite weak writing, the acting is fairly strong overall. I am not sure if Tom Hardy filmed this before or after The Dark Knight Rises but he still has his Bane body and uses that to embody his invincible status. Guy Pearce borders on over-the-top at times as the flamboyant Charlie Rakes. You definitely grow to hate his character. Gary Oldman is a perfect chameleon of an actor. Unfortunately, he is in the movie all too briefly. I would have loved to see more of his character. Hillcoat has directed a very violent and grisly movie. The added sound effects make every gun shot and throat slashing all the more graphic. While the movie has some good things going for it, it is done on a very simple surface level.

RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

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  1. Tom Hardy is the man in this flick but the one who really runs away with it all is Guy Pearce who has never ever been as vicious as he is here. Everybody else here is great too, but he’s the one who steals the show, in my opinion. Nice review Paul.

    1. Dan- Guy Pearce is always great. His character here is so outlandish and different than the others, I was debating if he was going too over-the-top to contrast the other characters. Regardless, he is fantastic and you hate his character because of the acting choices Pearce made. Thanks for reading!

  2. You're insane to say weak writing. He adapted it from the book. Nick Cave is god and you know it.

    1. Keith- I thought of you and Poosa right away when I saw the Cave wrote it.