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Lawless– Movie Review

Submitted by on September 8, 2012 – 3:35 pmNo Comment

Musician Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless, based on the historical novel by Matt Bondurant, and I can see the influence in the film. The depicted bootleggers of Franklin County, VA are of few words and many bonecrunching hits and gunshots; they work with their hands, whether in an auto garage or church. Director John Hillcoat combines all of these sights and sounds in a way that is downright musical. Though the film meanders long, it creates a moving atmospheric crime drama about family and pride.

The film tells the story of the Bondurant brothers, bootleggers in Prohibition-era rural Virginia. When all the other bootleggers in the county play ball with a corrupt state machine, the Bondurant’s fight back. At the same time, they expand their business, meet the right girls, and protect those they love.

Perhaps most surprisingly, this movie found an action hero role that Shia LaBeouf can actually play. Namely, not one. As Jack Bondurant, LaBeouf spends the first three quarters of the movie sniveling, vomiting and getting beaten up. When he finally begins carrying himself with more confidence, it is the flashy braggadocio of a teenager with a few successes under his belt- hubris that quickly comes around to hurt him. Even Jack’s final “heroic” moments have an ambiguity that deprives them of a real sense of accomplishment- and LaBeouf is convincing and vulnerable throughout. So when LaBeouf took a role that wasn’t exactly like the other motorcycle-riding tough guy he’s played, it actually paid off.

The rest of the film is similarly a beautiful deconstruction of the testosterone myths we believe about heroes, with great performances from Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Camp, and Jason Clarke. Unfortunately, these complex heroes are not given an equal counterpart: Guy Pearce is given the role of a causelessly evil, corrupt deputy, and does his best with it. Funnily, his performance reminded me of co-star Gary Oldman‘s over-the-top turn in The Professional: you’ll either love it or hate it. In any event, Pearce appears to have shaved off his eyebrows to (successfully) affect a creepy appearance, so I have to admire his dedication.

Did you see Lawless? What did you think?

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