Friday, August 31, 2012

A Violent and Bloody Good Period Piece: Our Review of "Lawless" (2012)

Directed By: John Hillcoat (The Road)

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska

Rating: R for strong bloody violence, language and sexuality/nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Synopsis: In the middle of Prohibition-era Virginia, Forrest Bondurant (Hardy) and his brothers Jack (LaBeouf) and Howard make and bootleg the best alcohol in the area. When local authorities start looking for a cut and bring in Special Deputy Rakes (Pearce) to crack down on them, tempers and blood start to run.


Andrew: Hello readers! Sarah and I hit up the local AMC tonight to catch an early evening showing of this week’s new R-rated drama Lawless, starring a personal fav of ours in Tom Hardy, as well as Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska.

It’s based on a true story about the bootlegging Bondurant brothers in Prohibition-era Virginia who fought against local authorities who tried to extort them into sharing their profits. This is one we’ve been looking forward to because we’ve been seeing the trailers for a while now and it looked gritty, it looked like it had a lot of drama involved and it had a great cast.

So now that we’ve seen Lawless, Sarah, what did you think?

Sarah: I was thoroughly impressed! It was a long movie that had a slow burn; it’s a very well done period piece. It’s incredibly engaging in both the cinematic aspects as well as the acting involved.

I really, REALLY liked this movie! It was right up my alley, with it being a great mix of a period piece but having lots of action, too. What did you think?

A: I loved it. You mentioned it’s a slow burn and I think that’s the thing I enjoyed most about it – from the beginning until the end it was one slow build-up to the climatic shoot-out. It was a great tension release at the end. There are bits and fits of violence throughout…

S: Extreme violence.

A: Oh yeah, definitely extreme violence, and some of it came out of nowhere so it caught us off guard. And then it steadily kept marching towards the conclusion and it was interesting to see how it all played out.

So those bits of extreme violence were quite visceral and that’s something I enjoyed because it sort of gave me my little fix of what I like to get out of horror movies, it got my adrenaline going. Like, oh crap! I can’t believe what I just saw!

Lawless is one of the most violent films we've seen in some time, and because of the slow nature of the film, the violence catches you off guard at times.

S: Right! And things happen slowly in this film because it takes place in a time when life was slower. So even a lot of the deaths were slower and they were gruesome.

A: True, a lot of the deaths in Lawless weren’t bang-bang.

S: And they mess with you both visually and audibly.

A: What do you mean audibly?

S: Well like a certain brutal attack that happens and the sounds the victim makes. I was just like, “Oh my god!” Because you could hear so much of it! It was ridiculous and it blew my mind that director John Hillcoat did that on-screen. I was actually surprised by how violent this movie was. I expected it to have gun violence, but not to the extreme of the other stuff in it.

A: You kind of got the gist from the trailer that it would have gun violence but it was the hand-to-hand stuff like Tom Hardy’s Forrest, who is really good with the brass knuckles and isn’t afraid to use them.

S: And he goes right for the jugular every time! Or like when he cracks a dude’s chest?

A: Well that was the other brother, Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke), but still. The hand-to-hand combat…so yeah, do not go into this film if you’re the squeamish type because there is a lot of blood and they’re not afraid to show it. Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave give you a good idea of the kind of life they lived back then, at least when it came to bootlegging.

Now what did we think about the talent involved? Like we love Tom Hardy…

S: LOVE Tom Hardy. I don’t know why but everything he has his hand in these days is pretty good (for the most part).

Now I will say this about Tom Hardy: he’s very much a character actor. He’s picked in a lot of instances to play gritty, darker characters. The only movie I haven’t seen him play a gritty character in was This Means War. Even in that movie, though, he’s not super bubbly or super outgoing like Chris Pine. Hardy always has a dark side…

A: And he’s great in those roles!

S: He’s FANTASTIC. He was amazing in this movie. He has very few lines and many of his subtle lines are some of the funniest and say the most about his character.

A: His Forrest Bondurant is a man of few words, and a lot of those words are actually grunts. He does that for a number of responses, whether it’s something he’s enjoying or something that’s caught him off guard…

S: Or when he’s angry.

Tom Hardy's Forrest Bondurant is a total BAMF, which makes that at least three times in the past two years that Hardy's played one of those.
A: Yeah. So there’s a levity involved at some points, and for such a serious movie there were a few times where Hardy had the whole theatre laughing out loud.

S: He was the only one that brought comedic relief to the movie, too.

A: And we should mention that it’s totally on purpose! Hardy’s funny moments aren’t unintentional.

S: Very true. But you what? He’s also the scariest character. It’s a nice dichotomy.

I thought that the brothers play off each other very well. You have Forrest Bondurant who is the leader and knows what’s going on – he may seem simple but he has everything under control; you have Howard, the drunk, who is sort of lost but is also the muscle when it’s needed; and then you have Shia LaBeouf’s Jack, who is the runt of the litter.

A: You know, he really ticked me off for most of the movie. It isn’t just that Shia LaBeouf sort of does that to me in general, it’s that his character is so whiny, and is trying to prove himself and gets too big for his britches and it backfires on him! It backfires almost every single time. So he finally gets his comeuppance and it felt good.

But his character also has the biggest character arc and I think it pays off in the end. Maybe not as much as I would have liked, to be quite honest, because I wish they had focused more on Forrest instead of Jack. It’s really Jack’s movie and there are parts of the film where what Jack was doing was only happening to push the story along as a whole.

S: I agree with you there. I loved Jessica Chastain (The Help) in this. She will quickly become Hollywood’s sweetheart…

A: If she’s not already. I do wish she had had more to do, though. She was really just window dressing here.

S: Yup, yup. I wish she had kicked some booty in this movie, too, because I think she can. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) was very good as the preacher’s daughter, Bertha; she played her part well even though it also wasn’t a big role.

The kid who plays Cricket? From Chronicle?

A: Dane DeHaan. He was really good!

S: He was REALLY good! He plays a simpleton, a cripple…

A: He’s definitely the sympathetic character.

S: Yup, the one you don’t want to see come to harm. He’s not taken advantage of, which was nice because he definitely could have been a character the brothers could have taken advantage of. He’s not, he’s Jack’s best friend…

A: Cricket is basically the unofficial fourth Bondurant brother, he’s part of the clan, which I liked. I liked the dynamic he brought to the film.

S: I. LOVED. Guy Pearce (Memento) in this film.

A: He was awesome as Special Deputy Rakes. He was so creepy.

S: SO creepy!

A: Especially the fact that he didn’t have eyebrows, that creeped me out just how it looked.

S: And the way he parts his hair down the middle!

A: He chewed the scenery so well, but he didn’t ham it up. He was perfectly creepy and menacing.

S: He was a BAD. GUY. He’s played off at the start as this special deputy who comes in from Chicago to save the hicks in the hills of Virginia, but he’s a bad seed.

A: And they show you glimpses of that throughout the movie. So he did a fantastic job of playing the bad guy, especially when he had to get physical.

So after all of that, I need to say that they WOEFULLY underused Gary Oldman’s (The Dark Knight) Floyd Banner!

S: That is the ONLY complaint I have of Lawless. When the credits rolled I honestly thought, “So then what was the point of even having Oldman in it?”

A: Gary Oldman, by my count, was in a total of three scenes. And two of them were awesome. They literally made me smile because it was just Gary Oldman being awesome.

S: His first two scenes, yes!

A: But the fact that he was only in three scenes and then isn’t really seen in the last half of the movie upset me.

S: He’s seen once.

A: So I feel like he needed to be a bigger part of the story, and I know it’s based on a true story so maybe Banner or whoever he’s based on really wasn’t a big part of the story but again it felt like he was a mechanism to allow Jack’s story to move forward. Again, he was just woefully underused.

True story: this was Gary Oldman's reaction when they told him he only got four scenes in Lawless. We're a little disappointed, too.

S: I wish…you know, in the end I kept thinking, “Oldman and his men are coming, they gotta be coming.” And they didn’t. I just wondered why cast him in this role, because he’s in the trailers a lot…

A: The trailers for Lawless make it look like Oldman is THE bad guy.

S: And he’s not! They should have cast someone different, in my opinion. Granted he’s great in the role…

A: He did a great job and so for the few scenes he’s in he was perfect for the role. So I don’t think they should have casted another actor, they just should have had him in it more. And maybe he DID have more scenes and they were just on the cutting room floor. I don’t know.

So, that’s that as far as the cast goes. And as you said earlier, the film LOOKS great, it SOUNDS great with the music…

S: The music was amazing. It was very similar to O Brother, Where Art Thou? It was period music, not a lot of orchestral stuff, it was music that fit the era.

A: So overall, this is a movie I’m glad you enjoyed as much as I did. I think this is one we’ll probably buy…

S: It’s totally one we’ll own someday and it’s definitely a movie you need to see in theatres.

A: It’s total Oscar bait. I’ve seen a lot of reviews where they say “Lawless is listless” or things along that line and I couldn’t disagree more. I got it for what it was, I enjoyed it for what it was.

S: Well it’s a slow burn! I felt it had the same slow burn of True Grit but was more action-packed.

A: Agreed. So definitely one you should see in theatres, even if it doesn’t get nominated for Best Picture (and I don’t think it will) I can definitely see one or two of the actors getting acting nods.

S: I really think it’s time for Tom Hardy to get a nod, or maybe Pearce for supporting actor. They’re great in it.

FINAL VERDICT: A must-see in theatres!

(Out of Five clapboards)


  1. Bummed to hear Gary Oldman got screwed in this film. He was a big part of why I was looking forward to it!

    1. Seriously, the lack of Oldman was a big let-down, but it's a small qualm to us in the grand scheme of things. If he had a bigger presence in it though, watch out. This would be in our Top 5 of the year.

  2. Good review. The ensemble was great and so was the action. Could it have been a little quicker with it's pace? Of course, but I can't go wrong with watching a bunch of bloody gun-battles that are some of the best I've seen all year.

    1. Thank you Dan! Yeah, the pace could have been a bit quicker, but it kind of helped the impact of the violent episodes because the pace kept us off guard.