Lawless is set during the 1930s prohibition era in Virginia and is based on a book (which I haven’t read) by Matt Bondurant, a biographical story of his grandfather and two great uncles who were successful moonshine bootleggers. The film focuses on the three brothers, Jack, Forrest and Howard and their business which is threatened by the arrival of a disturbingly violent Charlie Rakes who demands a cut of their profits.
Lawless performed fairly well at the box office, but it certainly hasn’t made waves in the film world. I think some of it’s weaknesses lie in the fact that the story it’s based on, whilst true, isn’t necessarily the most exciting. In fact it’s a fairly run of the mill story, filled with clichés of the prohibition era and country America. The story lacks any excitement. Set against the drab backdrop of a small dusty tired town, drab bars and woods, Lawless isn’t the most inviting film in the world.
The characters are also problematic. Shia LeBouf’s character has to be one of the most idiotic characters I have seen on screen in a long time. He’s basically a punch bag for anyone who wants it. He never seems to learn from his mistakes, even his well meaning ‘revenge’ acts turn out sour for him. It’s difficult to sympathise with someone this stupid. His character is so bland and boring and it’s difficult to remain engaged with him. By the end of the film, you don’t care if he finally steps up to the high standard set by his brother Forrest, because it’s just so completely implausible. And I hate to say it, but I think this is a casting problem, rather than a character problem. I don’t think Shia LeBouf was right for this role at all. He’s not convincing as someone who wants to embrace violence and crime, in fact he portrays the exact opposite, which I don’t think was the intended affect.
I was also disappointed that Gary Oldman didn’t feature as heavily as the credits/trailer suggested. A lot of the pointless side story could have been removed in favour of Gary Oldman/Floyd story. But this could just be me being biased as I am a big Gary Oldman fan, I think he’s generally been superb in any role he’s played. From the small glimpses we had of him, he seemed like a character where there was much more potential. The casting of Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes was fantastic, the highlight of the film. He plays the sexually ambiguous and terrifyingly violent character so well. If nothing else, you’ve got to commend him for shaving his eyebrows off for the role which adds a whole new layer of weird to the character.
The other cast members aren’t worth particularly mentioning, the female characters were weak and bland and Tom Hardy was filming either during or straight after his stint as Bane, so is incredibly bulked out, which the filmmakers don’t really use to their advantage. They could have exploited that and made his character a lot more aggressive than he is presented. Although saying that he gets shot about 8 times and his throat cut, neither of which kill him.
It’s a shame that Lawless wasn’t a better film, I’ve been waiting a while to see it (well since I saw the trailers before it’s cinema release) and I was really disappointed. It feels like they could have probably taken a little bit more of an artistic liberty with their source material, and if that wasn’t possible, then I’m fairly certain there are more interesting stories similar to this which are far superior. And admittedly, in the wake of Boardwalk Empire (which I’m addicted to) Lawless fails to match the quality and ‘realism’ of Boardwalk on almost every level. It’s not fair to compare a film to a tv show, but traditionally the latter is supposed to be the more boring and bland medium.
One of the fundamental problems lies within the fact that very little is shown, except for the brothers. They are successful bootleggers, but to who? We see maybe 3 other characters and then some God-fearing townsfolk who clearly aren’t buying moonshine (unless I’ve missed a point?). It’s a film which is limited by it’s own story, boring source material. Ultimately, the whole film lacks heart and passion, the story and characters are bland and you finish not really giving a damn about what happens to them.
(P.S. – I haven’t read the book, but I will invest time in it if someone can recommend it over the film! Otherwise I will assume that the book is just as dull… Sorry!)
- Lawless – 7.5/10. (robwatchesmovies.wordpress.com)
- Lawless Literature & Movie Review (queenslogic.com)