Film | Nathaniel Rogers | Shia LaBeouf | Tom Hardy

Movies: "Lawless" Needs More Moonshine

Oh, Shia... Man up! You've disappointed Tom Hardy again.



Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) doesn't believe the tall tales about the outlaw Bondurant Boys he keeps hearing in LAWLESS, especially the ones about Forrest (Tom Hardy). Local Virginia legend has it that Forrest can't be killed, that he's immortal.  "Have you ever seen what a tommy gun does to 'immortal'?" Rakes sneers in a (successful) effort to terrorize the town's Forrest fearing men into submission. Rakes then beats the youngest Bondurant brother Jack (Shia Labeouf) into a blubbering pulp. But, as it turns out, the Bondurant brothers are resilient enough to inspire tall tales. Forrest and his brothers make their living as moonshiners in this Depression-era Western and with Prohibition empowering organized crime, everyone is looking to be the top boss. The brothers value their autonomy but the guns are out and if an actual crime lord (Gary Oldman's "Floyd Banner") don't get them, then the even more crooked law enforcement (Pearce's Deputy) just might.

Such is the bloody conflict of John Hillcoat's Lawless, based on the historical novel "The Wettest County in the World" which was written by a grandson of the Bondurants (all childless during the movie) suggesting straightaway that at least one of them is going to make it out of the movie alive. Not that the film is shy about spoilers given its heavy handed foreshadowing and the past-tense narration. (You gotta Live to Tell).


Guy Pearce in "Lawless"

When a movie opens with a scene of a little boy failing his tough brothers by being too sensitive to shoot a farm animal in the head...

When a movie's toughest guy describes a future killing blow to his worst enemy...

When a movie has a scene in which a big brother balks at his younger brother's pleas for rescue and suggests he needs to fight his own battles... 

Well, it's hard not to see where that movie's plot lines will converge.

Unless, of course, you're taking all of the movie's (many) violent threats equally seriously in which case you'll be giving soft Jack some competition in the sobbing and quivering department. This is one brutal movie. Most Hollywood pictures worship tough guys and "Man up!" character arc narratives are common enough (Jack is going to have to quit with the sensitivity and make peace with the gun) but few of them go this far.

[SPOILER] Let's just say that in the summer of Magic Mike I didn't expect that the only balls we'd see onscreen would be severed and bloody and ready for their own closeup. In moments like this and elsewhere Lawless plays like a grotesque parody of tough guy posturing and masculine angst. It's balls are actually out while Labeouf tries to find his. Meanwhile Tom Hardy Brando-mumbles his way through scenes with his polar opposite Guy Pearce all preening and precise. Numerous characters, not just Forrest the Immortal, survive killing blows to demonstrate their manliness. Even the quickly dispatched henchman (like brilliant character actor Noah Taylor) are ressurected without a fuss. [/SPOILERS]


Lawless is far too generic a title for the movie's specificity for better and worse. The acting is always...uh... enthusiastic (Why is Mia Wasikowska cocking her head and flirting with such modernity when playing a preacher's daughter in the 30s who uses words like "courtin'"? Why is Guy Pearce adding another tic, however vivid, to the twenty-five he's already assembled for his character?). The movie's fetishistic relationship to feet is also of interest. There's a dramatically blunt shot of an expensive shoe blocking a door, another shoe as an amusing totem of humiliation, and a good sort of funny scene where the washing of feet in a church churns up several emotions... as well as the contents of Jack's stomachs. The best scene even hits as forcefully as tommy guns. A dreamy romantic walk through weeping willows late in the movie suddenly upends its own mood (twice!) with dramatic POV switches; same scene, entirely different feelings, all of them perfectly pitched.

But as the movie veers drunkenly from mediocre to great, and as it awkwardly stumbles between the fun of its over the top acting and the serious beats of its familiar crime drama plot, you get the sense that it was a nightmare in the editing room. Missing scenes are, for instance, the likely culprit when it comes to ex-dancer Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). She's introduced forcefully but the potency of her walk on feels curiously unearned given her always sketchy appearances thereafter. She's merely decorative but the movie insists she's functional.

Lawless was originally titled The Wettest County which is far more specific than Lawless though admittedly less flashy and equally ill suited to the movie. "Wettest" refers to the moonshine but Hillcoat is a very serious director and his preferred poison in every scene is blood. It's too bad, really. The actors are eager to get shitfaced but the movie is a teetotaler.


Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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  1. I'm trying to figure out why that extremely long review, containing a "spoiler" of a movie that just opened, is on Towleroad, rather than some esoteric movie review site.
    I notice it got 83% on Rotten Tomatoes -- I don't want to see it, but, apparently, those who went liked it.

    Posted by: Bob | Sep 1, 2012 6:36:25 PM

  2. I would think those who read the review would be interested that Nick Cave is the screenwriter, but there is no mention of that.

    Posted by: starquisha | Sep 2, 2012 2:06:24 PM

  3. Tom Hardy is/or may be the finest up and coming young artist/actor today. How this review missed how unique this film is/tom's work & talent, and only went for the cheap shots: balls! is beyond Towleroad's usual standard. Is this TMZ; like it or not/ but get a grip; this was some heavy duty acting work & cast. As to his silly flirting comment; young women, even church-going would sneek off to the movies and learn all they need to know.

    Posted by: douglas | Sep 2, 2012 8:11:14 PM

  4. A small tribe of us went to see this film on Friday night last; we all loved it and wanted to watch it again. This review was such an insult, which surprised me. So i read the complete bit looking for a sylogism or a concise polemic. No such luck. just horsepiss I will remember his name in future reviews @ Towleroad, and just move on..for there is nothing to see/read. IMHO

    Posted by: douglas | Sep 2, 2012 10:59:57 PM

  5. I have to agree the movie's editing never clicks, with a number of scenes do little in the way of narrative or character.

    Posted by: Brian | Sep 3, 2012 6:08:25 PM

  6. "THE ACTORS ARE EAGER TO GET SHITFACED but the movie is a teetotaler." Well, that is just too clever. The facts: Mr Tom Hardy went into rehab in 2003 and has been clean and sober ever since. I have no problem with an honest critique or any professional review of a film; and one this important, with the amount of talent/effort/& orginal source material... calls for just that. Here today @ Towleroad that did not happen. I am just pissing into the wind, but it still galls me off. IMHO

    Posted by: douglas | Sep 3, 2012 7:40:01 PM

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