Lawless (2012) review

Todd Miller | Collegio Writer

Period drama lacks focus, 2.5/5 stars

If you’re tired of the same old tripe in action movies, “Lawless” offers a nice reprieve for the casual moviegoer.
The film is set in Prohibition-era Virginia and focuses on the Bondurant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LeBeouf), who operate a successful bootlegging business. The Bondurant brothers are one of several groups of bootleggers in Franklin County, and all of them make a comfortable living selling the illegal substance. District Attorney Mason Wardell (Tim Tolin) wants a cut of the profits and sends in special agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) to negotiate, and inevitably threaten, the bootleggers of Franklin County. Forrest is the eldest and he is the one who confronts Charlie, absolutely denying cooperation and incurring Rakes’ wrath in the process.

Shia LaBeouf stars in "Lawless" (2012, The Weinstein Company).

Shia LaBeouf stars in “Lawless” (2012, The Weinstein Company).

Jack wants to impress his older brothers, and fulfill his dream of being like his idol Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). He attempts to stand up to Rakes’ regime and propel their business to greater success. However, it may be more than he can handle.
The movie opens with a nice big caption telling the audience that the story is based on true events, based on the 2008 novel “The Wettest County in the World,” written by Matt Bondurant. The film has mixed results in keeping to real events.
On the one hand, the action is gritty and realistic. When Rakes is beating Jack into a bloody heap, there’s nothing forced about it; you feel Jack’s pain. This reflects well on the abilities of the director and actors.
On the other hand, this requires most of the characters to be based on real people. There were hints that the scriptwriters doctored some of the characterizations. Most of the main characters are real to the point of being bland, thus making them easy to forget. The middle Bondurant brother, Howard, had such a minor impact on the story that I nearly forgot he was around. I may feel bad seeing a character nearly die or get hurt, but it doesn’t mean much if I don’t care enough to feel concerned.
Some of the writing is confusing. I would get a couple of characters confused. Rakes’ involvement as an antagonist was clear, but I got his motivations mixed up a few times. When he first showed up, I was certain he was there to extort money from the bootleggers, which he was, but about halfway through his actions suggested that he was an agent of the law out to stop bootlegging.
Some of the characters, like Forrest’s love interest Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), seem unnecessary. She adds little more than extra suspense to the movie, but is written in as a major player.
Though I liked the interaction and side love story between Jack and Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), it didn’t add anything beyond giving Jack something to do between scenes. All of Jack’s motives lay in impressing his brothers and making their business successful, rendering Bertha irrelevant to the plot, even more so than Maggie.
Overall, “Lawless” is an interesting film. It’s somewhat engaging, if a little slow to get started. If you’re looking for a more exciting action movie, “Hit and Run,” released last week, may be a better choice. If you want something more relaxed and true to life, then “Lawless” is a great option.

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