Brendan Kergin, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω
Set primarily in 1930, Lawless is a period piece placed in the back-country near Franklin, Va. The plot revolves around three brothers, their illegal bootlegging, romances and battle with corrupt lawmen.
If anything about those previous two lines intrigued you, you’re probably interested in this film. While a straight-forward description can be written about this film, it takes that straight-forwardness and uses it to plow through and create a solid film.
The brothers are played by Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke. While Hardy and LaBeouf work well together as the gruff leader and over-enthusiastic youngster, Clarke seems out of place a little. It does help that Hardy and LaBeouf look enough alike to be genetically related. Hardy’s performance is the strongest, though some moments seem out of place. However, that seems to be his character and not the acting.
Guy Pearce makes an excellent Snidely Whiplash-style villain, glossy and evil. It may be over the top, but with a plot where morality is often in the eye of the beholder, having an easy villain gives the audience someone to target, something that can get lost and leave a film unanchored without the easy-to-hate character.
Gary Oldman is under-used, but solid when he appears as a tommy-gun or shovel-wielding mobster. Mia Wasikowska is a good waif-like innocent, but Jessica Chastain has the meatier female role and does more with it.
The plot has a natural build, but plods at times. Early on the audience can start figuring out where everything is leading and then getting to the conclusion can take some time.
In general it works, with a few odd moments. Narration is used too sparsely; either do it or leave it out. At times the fact it’s based on a true story jumps out with a detail that seems out of place, or scene that might work better if something else happened, but chalk that up to the filmmakers trying to keep some true history involved. Still, jamming in back story or the random last scene might have been handled with more grace and improving the clarity of what occurred could be better.
The climactic scene is strong with a twist and an atypical finish, which is appreciated when so many films seem to pull their climaxes out of some sort of movie play book. It may feel a bit off kilter, but this film isn’t a glossy blockbuster with everything placed perfectly.
Another strength is the overall balance of the genre. Yes, it’s a period-piece drama, but there are moments of romance and plenty of action for a more rounded feel. It’s not a character study or a historical re-enactment, but it draws from both. There’s even a gratuitous explosion. The filmmakers also took time for a few great shots of the hill-country setting, which can be beautiful when shot right.