In 1931, in Franklyn County, Virginia, Forrest Bondurant is a legend as immortal after surviving the war. Together with his brothers Howard and the coward Jack, the Bondurant family has a distillery and bootlegging business. When the corrupt District Attorney Mason Wardell arrives in Franklyn with the unscrupulous Special Deputy Charles Rakes, the Bondurant family refuses to pay the required bribe to the authorities. Rakes pursuits the brothers and unsuccessfully tries to find their distillery. Meanwhile Forrest hires the waitress Maggie, a woman with a hidden past in Chicago, and they fall in love with each other. Jack courts the preacher's daughter Bertha Minnix and deals a great load of alcoholic liquor with the powerful gangster Floyd Banner. Jack shows off in Franklyn attracting the attention of Rakes that finds the location of their distillery. When he kills the crippled Cricket Pate, the locals join forces to face the corrupt authorities. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It's not difficult to see why this movie has gotten mixed reviews. Some people love it. But some people are stupid, and there's definitely a correlation between those two groups. Lawless is a movie that should have been good but was hamstrung by the clumsy inexperience of Nick Cave's script. At no point did this movie know what it wanted to be or where it wanted to go. As a result, the final product is a mish mash of over-long expository dialogue sequences interspersed with some grizzly violence. The three brothers at the centre of the movie all appear at the beginning to be pretty cut and dry characters: Hardy is the tough guy, LaBeouf is the wimp and Jason Clarke's character is the wild card. But this only lasts a little while as LaBeouf is seen to be the ambitious, business savvy one while Hardy is actually the sensitive soul. No, there's no problem with characters evolving throughout a movie, its encouraged in fact, but it was executed in this movie with the nuance of a late night movie on cinemax. Lawless takes absolutely forever to get going and forsakes a lot of potentially interesting plot points in order to sustain the character driven story. But the characters are terribly written and poorly acted, so the movie drains the audience of its energy during the nearly two hour run time.
Hardy looks out of place in this movie, still carrying the weight from The Dark Knight Rises and leaning heavily on his Bane voice, everything about his performance is underwhelming. His character is a brute from the beginning, but becomes oddly sensitive in the presence of Jessica Castain's character, who does nothing in the movie. She has three or four scenes and a handful of lines of dialogue before the audience is forced to sit through the inevitable and totally unbelievable romance with Hardy. LaBeouf isn't much more convincing in the role of the protagonist. His character jumps around from being weak and useless to outgoing tough-guy without any sense of character development. There are no reasons for his change, it just happens. Guy Pearce's considerable talents are wasted on the hammy, sociopathic villain who is so obviously evil for no reason that his scenes become funny to watch before the end. Garry Oldman, one of the classiest actor's in Hollywood, nails his role completely and checks out, his gravitas completely wasted by John Hillcoat.
The one person on the crew who does work hard to save the movie is cinematographer Benoît Delhomme (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), because this movie is magnificently shot. If only the plot hadn't been so tedious, Lawless would have been a joy to watch. Prohibition-era greys and browns blend effortlessly with the luscious greens of rural Virginia and the sleek blacks of fancy new cars and firearms. It should also be noted that Hillcoat has done an admirable job directing. With time and money to work with, the movie is very well structured. It's easy to tell that the director got his hands dirty making this picture and it shines through, despite being hampered by the script.
And that's really what this movie comes down to. If you build anything on unstable foundations, it's bound to collapse. Cave's ham-fisted characters and lumbering plot progression weigh this movie down from the opening sequence right up to the disappointing climax and instead of being a diamond in the rough of modern movies, Lawless takes a bad script and turns it into a crummy movie to be forgotten in the miasma of other modern movies who make exactly the same mistakes.
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