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Movies Review

Lawless

A Prohibition Era drama based on a true story.

Lawless Poster scored 74/100

Score : 74/100

Watchable Minutes: 85 / 116. I think Lawless could have benefited from a tighter run time to eliminate some of the fluff. 

Trailer Comparison : The trailer for Lawless kind of oversells the pace and some of the characters in movie.

Movie or Film : Lawless is a movie, through and through. Basing your movie off a true story doesn’t grant Film status. 

Info : 

  • Run time : 1 hr 56 minutes
  • Studio : Annapurna Pictures
  • Director : John Hillcoat
  • Where to Watch : Prime Video ($) – you can watch this for free with ads on Prime Video or pay the rental fee. 

Summary : 

Forrest, Howard, and Jack Bondurant run a small bootlegging operation in Prohibition era rural Virginia. When a corrupt special deputy and a District Attorney from Chicago come to town to get a cut of the action, the Bondurant boys refuse to cut them in. Leaning into their criminal lifestyle, Jack takes the small time operation to the next level by dealing with gangster Floyd Banner while trying to keep their operation hidden from Deputy Rake. Based off the novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant. 

Review : 

Lawless is one of those movies where it’s a little rough around the edges but it’s still decent overall. It has bits and pieces of greatness but it misses the mark to get a higher score.

I thought the story was at least somewhat interesting. You can throw a rock and hit about two dozen movies where you end up on the side of the “bad guys” going up against lawmen. It’s hard to find a movie where the law is just as, if not more, corrupt than the bad guys, like in this one. The “bad guys” in this story are the Bondurant brothers; Forrest, Howard, and Jack, who are played by Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, and Shia LeBeouf respectively. The Bondurant’s have a reputation of being almost indestructible and reckless. Believing in their own myth, these brothers run a small and successful bootlegging operation in defiance of the law during Prohibition. Logic dictates that if your operation is big enough, you’ll attract the attention of the authorities, which is exactly what happens. Where Lawless breaks from the norm is by having the special deputy who shows up be an absolutely insufferable piece of human garbage, so you have no choice but to root for the Bondurant boys. That’s where the interest stops for me.

What I found to be most irritating about the story was the wasted potential of Gary Oldman’s character. He was on screen for about 15 minutes to shoot a tommy gun into a car, beat a man to death with a shovel and give Jack Bondurant a fat stack of cash. If you’ve got Gary Oldman on set, you’ve got to do something better than that. There’s also two minor love story subplots that are ok. I get that this is based on real life events, but I would have axed those subplots entirely because nothing really materializes with it until the very end when the family goes back to normal after Prohibition ended.  

Tom Hardy is one of my favorite actors and I love most of his work. The man can act, no doubt about it. The same goes for Shia LeBeouf when he’s in a good head space. I don’t know what struggles he went through with his career while dealing with fame, but when he’s interested in a movie, I think you can tell based on the heart he puts into it. And, again, Gary Oldman is also one of those all time greats, with an awesome filmography. What bothered me most about this movie was that most of the cast just didn’t seem to be in it with any sort of heart. Lawless was filmed and released around the same time as The Dark Knight Rises, which also featured Hardy and Oldman. One can only imagine that the final installment of a Christopher Nolan trilogy would be on the priority for your acting effort, especially if they were filmed back to back. I found Jason Clarke to be basically pointless in this movie. He didn’t really do much of anything but take up space and drink his own supply. Jessica Chastain also didn’t really serve a purpose other than to be a deus ex machina for when Forrest had his first life threatening injury. Last, is Guy Pearce. I despise his character with a passion because his mannerisms and wardrobe was just so over the top bad. It was not a good role at all. It would have been so easy to go a more traditional route with the character but he just went for laughably bad.

The direction by John Hillcoat was decent. I’m still learning about blocking and pacing, but I didn’t see anything overtly wrong with this movie in that department. I mentioned above that the run time could have used a little bit of trimming to eliminate some of the fluff, like the romance sub plots; but other than that, there were no other major complaints. There are some redeeming factors with the cinematography. The movie looked good. Nothing jumped out to me as out of place and everything fit that 1930s aesthetic nicely. Overall, it was just another decent element with nothing particularly special. The same goes for the sound design and scoring. Everything in those two categories was decent as well.

To put a bow on it, Lawless is one of those strange movies were the whole movie is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. I can forgive every mediocre aspect about it (except for Guy Pearce’s role) because it just works when it’s all together. I think that as far as movies that score in the 70s go, this is a strong 74. Lawless was recommended to me by one of my best friends and, in the end, I’m glad I got around to finally watching it.

If you like this, check out : 

  • The Godfather pt 1 & 2
  • Gangs of New York
  • The Departed

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