Rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity
Mobsters and organized crime have always been inspiration for some of the most classic films, as well as films studied by students here at SLCC. Recent forays into this genre have the tendency to pale in comparison to those early films. Is it because of society’s superficial tastes, or are studios just afraid to put in the amount of dedication required for these masterpieces? In the case of this film I’d assume the latter.
Based on the book The Wettest County in the World, Lawless follows the three Bondurant brothers, played by Shia LeBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke. The brothers are notorious bootleggers who run their operation in Franklin County, Virginia.
When a corrupt district attorney, played by Tim Tolin and sadistic deputy, played by Guy Pierce are brought in to crack down on the numerous bootlegging operations, the film becomes focused on greed and revenge.
The story of this film, while fairly engaging, is a little slow at times and doesn’t really follow the three-act structure. Like most films based on novels that aren’t marketed to teens or children, this film takes a more episodic approach to the events. Only halfway through does it really start to feel like a three-act film.
Although the characters experience constant danger due to their activities, I didn’t really see any clear stakes as we came to the film’s climax.
While the story itself is a little unclear, Lawless is still pretty good from a technical standpoint. The cinematography of the film is well planned and pulls off good imagery.
It doesn’t play around with colors too much, as most of the costumes are kept in a very earthy tone for the protagonists and very “black and white” for the film’s antagonists. The film also plays around with a “clean vs. dirty” motif in both the visuals and the story.
The dialogue in Lawless is pretty well written, but doesn’t really have anything quotable or memorable. There are moments where you can tell they’re trying to have “that big scene” but the dialogue can’t quite match the quality of the visuals.
The film is acted pretty well, with Guy Pierce’s performance being a nice over-the-top delivery to contrast some of the more subdued performances.
The only real detraction is how Shia LeBeouf occasionally loses his accent while delivering some of the lines. It’s not so bad that it breaks the illusion of the film, but too much of his real voice tends to sneak through.
Tom Hardy gives a good performance, since it’s more about mannerisms than dialogue. I almost wish we had gotten to see more of him than some of the other characters.
Overall, I found Lawless to be kind of boring. It gets points for being a visually pleasing film, but with its semi-episodic pacing and fairly lackluster dialogue it comes across as off-season fluff. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how faithful it is to the source material, but I feel that it probably would have done better as a miniseries a la Roots rather than as a feature film.
On my personal scale, I give Lawless a 3.5/5.