Movie Review: ‘Lawless’ – Iowa State Daily

Gabriel Stoffa

Lawless” is a quality film. From acting to story to filming to the whole shebang, it is a movie I recommend folks see.
That said, it has some glaring flaws. Those flaws are undercut just enough, though, to let the movie be worth it.
Tom Hardy (Forrest Bondurant) yet again demonstrates his acting chops in fine form as the gruff and light-spoken legendary leader of a hillbilly moonshiner family; legendary because despite all efforts no one seems to be able to kill him. Can we get this man an Oscar nod some time soon?
Shia Lebeouf (Jack Bondurant) is the runt of the litter character trying to live outside his caste after the fashion of the dangerous mobsters so glamorized during the prohibition era. His character’s tale is one so many people throughout history should heed: When you try to be impressive and live outside your reality, you tend to get into trouble quickly.
Jason Clarke (Howard Bondurant) is the drunken — well, more drunk, as the whole Bondurant family seems to have whiskey running through their veins — viking of the backwoods folk, acting as an enforcer. Though a simple sort of role, Clarke is the character from start to finish, and it would be a scary start and finish should you meet someone like him.
Those three actors make “Lawless” come to life as a great drama. Note “drama” not “action” as previews would have audiences believe. The action in the movie is violence of the non-flashy sort. It is fairly short-lived compared to many gun and fist fights portrayed on film, the draw being not what is happening, but the aftermath of the brutality.
The scenes and costumes bring you into a time that you probably wouldn’t want to live, but one at the same time you want to experience. I love crime films, especially prohibition ones, because they romanticize something that excites primal instincts in our minds. “Lawless” does this without needing to go over the top.
But then come the problems. “Lawless” has too much story created for too little time. It would have been better served as a three or four part TV series, each segment lasting around 2 hours.
Gary Oldman plays a tommy-gun wielding badass from the city mobs. His is the character Jack models himself after. Oldman is always a pleasure to have on screen, yet his talents are hardly used, and his character’s time in development is hardly necessary given the tiny role his screen time encompasses.
Guy Pierce has a enough time to create his character’s quirks, but is also left without enough definition to be anything more than someone more violent and brutal than the Bondurants.
The Bondurants are criminals who use violence to maintain business, and so “Lawless” pushes the audience to root for the bad guys. But it would have been far more appealing to have had more of their backwoods lifestyle than a montage of bootlegging and a couple other deliveries would lead us to understand. The organized crime from the cities is already an understood entity, but it still lacked the details to round out who and how influential they were. As I said, there was too much development, with not enough screen time available to go past beginnings.
You spend most of the movie waiting for Jack’s desire to “appear cool” to have its violent repercussions, and in the end you do not get the level of backfire you were expecting. Yes, it is still a pleasure to watch how it ends up playing out, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like enough. The Bondurant family are held up as powerful folk, able to withstand nearly anything. As such, you want to see the family be broken enough to put them on a mortal level, but the Bondurants remain heroes from fables that triumph with wounds easily ignored through rage and determination.
With a few more hours, it could have been beyond amazing. As is, “Lawless” is a good movie that will likely improve two-fold with an extended director’s cut. I recommend seeing it in theaters. It is a movie you can walk out of and discuss, and still feel good about it a few days later. I would have preferred something more like the 2012 TV mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys,” but it still satisfying.
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