What comes to your mind when you think of a "Gangster Movie"? The critically acclaimed Godfather trilogy? Al Pacino's most famous film Scarface? Or perhaps Goodfellas, The Untouchables, or Reservoir Dogs? There are certainly plenty to choose from, but not all of them are worth watching. Whichever one, or more, of those films may come to mind for you, let me bring one more to your attention.
Based on the historical novel "The Wettest Country in the World" by Matt Bondurant, "Lawless" introduces us to the Bondurant brothers Forrest, Howard, and Jack (Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, and Shia LaBeouf respectively) living in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia. The three brothers run a successful bootlegging operation, supplying moonshine to everyone around, from town and country folk all the way to the local police. But when corrupt Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes down to Franklin, the three brothers soon find themselves in a war with Rakes and the local law enforcement for not only their livelihoods, but also their loved ones and their very lives.
"Lawless" very nearly came and went before I was finally able to sit down this afternoon and watch it from start to finish. My primary reason for wanting to see this film was the fact that Tom Hardy was set to star. I don't mean to take away from the other actors and actresses, but this film was released just a couple of weeks after "The Dark Knight Rises" and I'm not ashamed to say that I was still feeling the effect of Hardy's performance as Bane. Before "Lawless" was finished however, two other actors' performances had come to surprise me. Those being Shia LaBeouf's Jack Bondurant and Guy Pearce's Charley Rakes. Tom Hardy was great as the quiet yet intense elder Bondurant brother who thinks himself invincible, often favoring the good ol' knuckle duster in a fight, of which he had his fair share.
I'm sure we call can recall, albeit regrettably, the "Even Stevens" days of LaBeouf's career. I can say that not once during this film did those bygone days come back to mind. Even the awful Transformers movies were the furthest things from my mind. Alright... I'll be completely honest... I almost wanted LaBeouf to yell "Optimus!" during the film's climax.
As unexpected as LaBeouf's character was, Pearce's was even more so. We're easily led to believe from the trailer that the character of Charley Rakes was crooked, but I honestly did not expect him to be as twisted as he was shown to be. I haven't seen Pearce in much, the only other recent film was "Prometheus" in which he didn't do anything very noteworthy, but he was very surprising here. A glove-and-perfume-wearing man, Rakes gave the impression more than once that he might've been effeminate. That was even addressed, to a degree, halfway through the film. It also seemed as if Rakes had a form of OCD, having a prostitute (I think) sit on newspaper instead if directly on a bed and visibly recoiling when Jack Bondurant reached out after a particularly savage beating.
Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, the two leading women of the film, did a fair job in their respective roles. At times I found Chastain's Maggie to be more awkward than Wasikowska's Bertha should have been, but thankfully that wasn't very often. One thing I should commend Chastain's performance on was what they decided to do after the character's implied rape. Instead of having the character break down completely, and by no means am I disrespecting any woman with that, it almost looked like Maggie used that to further strengthen herself. Only once did she show outward signs of trauma.
The one complaint I have with the choice of casting is what was done with Gary Oldman. He was shown for maybe ten to fifteen minutes in the beginning and part way through the middle, but after that it was as if he was never in the film to begin with. Unless I missed it, there was no other instance of him appearing again. Not even a passing mention. You cannot cast someone of Oldman's caliber and NOT have him be a regular figure throughout whatever film he's in. It's just embarrassing.
One other thing that surprised me was how director John Hillcoat handled the violence. It was said that in Matt Bondurant's novel you would be "lulled by the beautiful lyricism of the writing, only to be slapped in the face by a graphically descriptive killing" and how that was something Hillcoat definitely wanted to stay true to. While a couple of those scenes were all but revealed in Lawless' trailer, they were handled well and nonetheless startling. Come to think of it, all of the violence was handled in the proper way. It wasn't ever thrown in without regard, which is something that can happen very easily if the director isn't careful.
So if you're a fan of any of the movies that were mentioned above, give "Lawless" a watch.
This was a review by tMG, thank you for the read.