The late summer doldrums end with a bang as Lawless rolls into theaters, a dramatized true story of moonshining brothers who are pitted against a ruthless police officer. Despite featuring great performances and a violent story, however, Lawless fails to be the sum of its part.
Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman star in the Prohibition-era tale, where the three Bondurant boys run a successful moonshine business. Enter Charlie Rakes (Pearce), a state police officer who will do anything to bring them down. Like break people's necks and put a gallon of hair gel on his scalp.
Had Lawless been released later in the year, and been more profound, its performances would at least be in consideration for acting nominations. LaBeouf curtails the neurotic antics and the move pays off big time; it's his best performance since A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. But it's Tom Hardy who really shines; with The Dark Knight Rises still playing well in theaters, Hardy delivers a performance that is a far cry from the explosive Bane, a cool, simmering and growling protagonist who dominates every scene he's in.
Then again, there's Guy Pearce, who chews up scenery, spits it out and then chews it up again. More a caricature than a real person, Pearce's Charlie Rakes is as evil - and looks as evil - as Gary Oldman's turn in The Fifth Element. The performance may not be award-winning, but it a rewarding one. And a complete blast. As for Oldman, the biggest disappointment is that he's relegated to a surprisingly small and ultimately inconsequential part.
Jessica Chastain is also great; she brings nuance to a role that could have easily been forgettable and non-essential. Speaking of forgettable and non-essential, that label applies to Mia Wasikowska, though it's to no fault of her own. Director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave attempt to build a meaningful bond between her character and LaBeouf's, but it pales in comparison to the Hardy/Chastain romance and gets lost in the third act.
The third act is generally where Lawless falters, though it's on par with the previous two. That's exactly the problem, though. Lawless never rises to something great, profound or memorable; it's moderately entertaining and engaging, but despite some bursts of gory violence, it lacks edge. The climax is shrugworthy at best, and a great, balls-to-the-wall climax would have made a huge impact on the movie's lasting impression.
Which isn't much.
Hillcoat and Cave, who collaborated on the excellent The Proposition (which starred Guy Pearce), tell an intriguing story, but they forget to tell it in an intriguing way. The movie needed to build to something more, and at the very least racket up the action, but it doesn't. Lawless is an adequate late summer release, but it fails to live up to the potential set by its cast.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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