Lawless is the most beautifully shot gangster movie I’ve ever seen. Everything about the cinematography is gorgeous, and it’s made even better by a perfect Americana soundtrack and amazing performances by the cast. But it’s also quite atypical for its genre, because the outlaws aren’t made to suffer for their lawbreaking.
Part of why I love Lawless so much is because of this ending. Sure, it’s satisfying seeing the bad guys get what’s coming to them, but in this film the lines between good and evil and very blurred. The Bondurant Brothers, our main protagonists, are moonshiners during Prohibition. They are definitely law breakers, but the audience is made to root for them because they’re just men trying to make a living. Also, the special deputy sent to disrupt the bootleggers in the area is absolutely insane and corrupt.
Which leads me to what I didn’t like: the villain. There’s no doubt that there were corrupt police and federal agents happy to take a cut of the illegal bootlegging business, but I have a hard time swallowing Guy Pearce’s performance here. He’s just too over the top, crazy to the point where he is a caricature. Pearce sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the more measured performances given by the rest of the cast. This is a shame, because he’s such a good actor, but a bit more restraint was needed here.
The best performance comes from Tom Hardy. He plays the oldest Bondurant, who is a man of few words, but who has an explosive temper. Also, he rocks some awesome cardigans in this movie. Shia LaBeouf is Hardy’s youngest brother. While technically the star, he is often overshadowed by Hardy, though this speaks more to Hardy’s amazing technique than any deficiency on LaBeouf’s part.
Lawless is an interesting take on the gangster genre, providing a quieter depiction of the Prohibition Era. It’s well acted (for the most part), and has beautiful cinematography. You won’t find a morality tale here, but that gives the film more realism than most. There were likely far more bootleggers who went on to live normal lives, than there were those who went to prison or down in a hail of gunfire.
Lawless is an entertaining film set in prohibition America. The solid cast excels and takes a group of law breakers and makes you care about them.
The film follows Jack (Shia Lebeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke). These three brothers live in Virginia and are in the moonshine business, and business is booming. When special deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes looking for a bribe, the brothers refuse, which automatically makes them a target for police. The brothers need to be careful about avoiding the sadistic deputy who now has an eye out for any of their activities. The brothers lock horns about whether or not they should expand their business given the extra attention they are receiving, Jack decides to take their business further and eventually finds a buyer in powerful gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) who will help expand the business. While the brothers butt heads about the direction their business is heading, Deputy Rakes slowly closes in on them hoping to take down their crooked operation.
The most impressive part about this film is Shia Labeouf. He is terrific as the younger Bondurant brother hoping to be respected by his older brothers, and make himself some money in the process. Labeouf is constantly written off as an actor after his work as a youngster on the Disney Channel and his appearances in the ordinary Transformers series, but he is definitely a talent and he shows it in this film. He holds his own with more esteemed actors like Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman.
I also liked Tom Hardy as the middle brother Forrest. He is so calm and collected, but brings the pain when he needs too. Hardy does a terrific job of seeming nonchalant but terrifying at the same time.
One of the problems I have with this film is that it does glorify crime. The brothers never hide the fact that they are breaking the law, and the movie does such a good of making Guy Pearce’s character completely detestable, there are times when you feel like these brothers are the good guys. I know not everything is black and white, but I do sometimes have a problem when crime is glorified.
On the whole, Lawless is a solid film led by a great ensemble cast.