Movie Review: “Lawless”
“Lawless” is ultraviolent. Throat slits, brass knuckles and a castration set this period piece’s gritty tone.
Set in Franklin County, Virginia, and based on the novel “The Wettest County” by Matt Bondurant, the film boasts to tell the tale of the three Bondurant brothers, a trio hell-bent on getting rich off moonshine during the Depression.
Of the brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy) leads the squad. However, charisma is something he lacks. Hardy’s performance is far from nuanced; his character mostly grunts, gives emotionless stares, and occasionally throws punches.
Howard (Jason Clarke) is even more disposable. He serves as the muscle man and rarely even thinks to grunt.
The only brother with any interesting traits is Jack (Shia LaBeouf), who propels the film’s plot by expanding the moonshining business, getting himself beat up and attempting to win the affection of the preacher’s daughter, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).
Bertha is a perfect foil for Jack and their interactions between each other are some of the most pleasant moments in the film. Wasikowska is also one of only two female characters in the film. She is unlike Jessica Chastain’s Maggie, who serves little purpose other than to provide an object for audiences to ogle over. Maggie is a cardboard cutout, and Chastain’s acting ability is swept under the rug here.
The violence in the film is excessive, but its escalation throughout succeeds in portraying a turf war the Bondurant brothers initiate with Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a lawman sent from Chicago to take them down.
Pearce is formidable as the villain. His hair is greased, he wears black, leather gloves, and he carries a revolver.
But roles in this film tend to get mixed up, hence its title. The Bondurants are local heroes and Rakes’ presence ruins the social order in Franklin. Rakes is a vengeful man, and he seeks revenge rather than justice.
“Lawless” was filmed in Georgia, but most of its settings are generic backroads and Nowhere, America. These factors are part of the charm, though. Director John Hillcoat (“The Road,” “The Proposition”) has a keen eye for vast empty settings filled with emotion.
The set design and costuming are the film’s strongest points.One highlight is the authenticity of the characters’ hats and pinstriped suits to the Depression era.
“Lawless” is a summer blockbuster film, but it opened a little too late to hit its seasonal mark. Its violence may exceed necessary,