PG Cooper: Lawless Review

Posted: September 6, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: August 29th, 2012

Running time: 1 hour and 55 minutes

Written by: Nick Cave

Based on: The novel “The Wettest Country in the World” by Matt Bondurant

Directed by: John Hillcoat

Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, and Guy Pearce

John Hillcoat’s 2009 film The Road is a dark and ambitious film which received mixed reviews from critics on release. I personally loved the film and I still do. The acting was great and Hillcoat brought a lot of atmosphere and darkness to the film. His previous film, The Proposition, is also held in very high regards (though I haven’t seen it). Given all this, my hopes for Hillcoat’s next film were always high. These hopes were raised dramatically when I found his next film would be a crime film starring great actors like Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman.

Taking place during the prohibition era in the U.S., Lawless follows three brothers who sell bootleg liquor. Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the runt of the group who desperately wants to prove himself to his older brothers, the unpredictable Howard (Jason Clarke), and the leader of the group Forrest (Tom Hardy). In an effort to prove himself, Jack heads to Chicago and begins a deal with crime boss Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). The brothers find their business coming under pressure from Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce).

First and foremost, Lawless is far less ambitious than The Road and in many ways feels like a step down for John Hillcoat. As mentioned earlier, The Road is a dark and dreary film that divided audiences and critics. I understand why Hillcoat would want to make something lighter and more simple, but it feels like he simplified things a bit too much. Lawless is a pretty basic tale of good vs. evil. What’s odd about this is that the film’s protagonists are criminals but are constantly seen as good people. Not once are questions raised about the nature or ethics of the brothers’ life style. To help make the protagonists look better, the film’s antagonist is written as a psychotic and brutal savage who’s main motivation is to cause pain in others. Instead of painting him as a man who genuinely thinks he’s doing the right thing, Rakes is written as the epitome of evil. Basically, Lawless is not a film that wants the viewer to think deeply about the story and characters. It’s just escapism.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with making an escapism film. Brian De Palma made an excellent escapist film about prohibition when he made The Untouchables. What makes The Untouchables a classic though is the immense level of craftsmanship that De Palma brought to the project (in addition to the awesome characters). Lawless does not deliver the same level of craftsmanship. A lot of the elements in Lawless do not gel together and the film never really comes together as a complete whole. Granted, certain individual scenes are excellent, but the overall film lacks focus and certain subplots add little.

The film’s cast does not disappoint. The acting across the film is great with certain performances being excellent. Tom Hardy steals the show with his imposing presence and solid mumbling. He’s a simple character, but one who strongly stands by his beliefs and it’s easy to get behind him. Shia LaBeouf also manages to hold his own and delivers one of the strongest performances I’ve seen from him. Guy Pearce may be playing a simplified character, but he’s so deliciously evil that he’s a blast to watch. Gary Oldman has a very enjoyable cameo and the up and coming Jessica Chastain delivers another strong performance. This film also marks the first time I’ve ever enjoyed Mia Wasikowska. The cast is the film’s biggest strength.

In addition to the cast, the technical elements in Lawless are quite good. The period clothing and architecture are done very well and the soundtrack fits the film perfectly. There’s also some great acts of violence which include brutal fights, shootouts, and a very well done explosion. Emphasis on the brutal mind you; the action scenes in Lawless get very intense. I also really enjoyed the film’s cinematography, which I found quite good, particularly during a snowing scene.

My review for this reads very harsh, but I didn’t hate it at all. In fact, I really enjoyed it. Individual scenes are great, the cast really delivers, and the technical elements are top notch. Lawless is definitely a good film, but it isn’t a great one. Given the talent behind it, Lawless definitely could have been. I’m disappointed that it wasn’t better, but Lawless is still an enjoyable and respectable film worth your time.

Rating: B

  1. I’m checking this out next week hopefully and I’m looking forward to it. Most reviews I’ve read though have said it’s a little disappointing which has dampened my expectations a little.

  2. It sounds to me like this one is worth a rental, but not a trip to the movie theatre. I’m seeing a lot of Bs being thrown around for it. Your review is solid; shows some of the problems, while acknowledging its strengths. It bugs me, too, when a movie only manages to make the protagonists look good by making a normally-heroic role (such as a sheriff) a by-the-numbers psycho-villain.

  3. […] Lawless, a film about bootleggers, is out this week. PG Cooper has his take on it here. […]

  4. CMrok93 says:

    Good review PG. This was a bunch of fun for me and I liked how all of the performances added to the final product. Could have been a little quicker with itself at times but still, a pretty solid way to end the summer.

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