Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lawless Review

John Hillcoat's latest directorial effort had all the ingredients for a masterpiece: an insane cast, an intriguing setting, and an interesting, gripping story.  The thing about Lawless is that all of those individual parts are, in fact fantastic and work very well.  Where things starts to falter a bit is how they all interact with each other.  The result is an incredibly uneven film that can't decide what it wants to be.  There will also be spoilers peppered throughout, so you've been warned.

The fact of the matter is that I was quite entertained while watching Lawless, but I wasn't happy about it.  What I mean is that there are some aspects of the film that are just incredible, namely the performances on display.  The narrative, however, is wildly uneven and just kills the pace of the film.  It also doesn't help that the film's tone is all over the place as well.  Lawless is very much a drama, but there are bits of comedy sprinkled throughout (which isn't inherently a bad thing, considering the overbearing bleakness of the world we're watching), with some parts perhaps being inadvertently funny.  I'm directly referencing Tom Hardy's Forrest and his mumbled delivery of dialogue.  I think we're supposed to laugh at how he grumbles and says "um" a lot, but I just wasn't sure.

There is one thing in particular that bugs me, and is meant to be completely serious but becomes accidentally funny: Forrest comes back from the dead twice.  Now, part of the "legend" of the Bondurant boys (Hardy's Forrest, Shia LaBeouf's Jack, and Jason Clarke's Howard) is that they're "invincible" and can't be killed.  Well, twice Forrest endures life-ending wounds and is somehow still alive.  The first time it happened I would've admittedly been quite upset that he was dead, but it would've serviced the narrative and lead to some interesting events.  Instead, he's somehow alive in a hospital (we do eventually find out how he made it there).  The second time it happened is just plain silly.  It is most certainly not  played up for levity, but it comes across that way.  Then when he does die, in the film's epilogue (which really didn't need to be there), its treated as something lighthearted; something that we're supposed to shrug our shoulders to and say "gee willikers, that's a shame!"  It just felt very out of place to me.  Again, I am wholeheartedly acknowledging the fact that his overcoming these life-threatening injuries (using 1930s medical science) plays into the greater idea that these Bondurants are invincible...I just thought it came across as goofy.

Now that I'm done complaining (for the most part) I can get to what I really enjoyed about Lawless - the performances.  This film has an all-star cast if I've ever seen one.  I really feel that this is Tom Hardy's best performance to date (even though he's fantastic is just about everything he does), and reinforces the idea that he's one of Hollywood's most under-appreciated actors (a sentiment that I may be the only person to have).  He is honestly the most interesting and gripping character on screen; Forrest is calm, quiet, and contemplative most of the time, but acts with swift veracity when he needs to.  This is probably also my favorite Shia LaBeouf role (granted, he hasn't done much other than Transformers films); his journey is one from child to adulthood, as he steps into his role as a "Bondurant brother" and takes a more active role in the moonshine business and he pulls it off quite well.  Despite these two fantastic performances, the show-stealer has got to be Guy Pearce's Charlie Rakes, a "Special Agent" from Chicago sent to their hometown of Franklin, Virginia, to help dry up the county and share in the profits of the bootleggers.  Rakes is hideous in both appearances and actions; even though he is a lawman he is most definitely the main antagonist of the film...and boy does he earn that title.

What's so frustrating to me is that there are plenty of things to love about Lawless, but at the end of the day it just didn't wholly gel for me.  Perhaps my expectations were too high.  Or maybe it was the misleading trailer that had me looking for a bit more action.  Regardless, I would still recommend that Lawless be seen on the merit of the performances alone.  Before I go I just have to mention one last thing: if you feature Gary Oldman predominantly in your trailers and marketing then he better be in the film for more than five minutes.  Because that is literally the amount of screen time given to his character (who is relegated to nothing more than a story point).  Anyway, just go see it!

Lawless is a flawed yet incredibly entertaining period film that should be seen.

The Bearded Bullet.

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