** (out of 5)
August 29, 2012
Shia LaBeouf as JACK BONDURANT
Tom Hardy as FORREST BONDURANT
Jason Clarke as HOWARD BONDURANT
Guy Pearce as CHARLIE RAKES
Jessica Chastain as MAGGIE BEAUFORD
Mia Wasikowska as BERTHA MINNIX
Dane DeHaan as CRICKET PATE
Gary Oldman as FLLOYD BANNER
Directed by: John Hillcoat
BY KEVIN CARR
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Cliches are a funny thing. Sometimes the mere presence of them in a film send me off my rocker. Other times, they are warm and comfortable. A lot of it has to do with the type of movie I’m watching. If it’s a film that relies on the trappings of its genre, cliches can be the way to go. Things like romantic comedies, children’s movies and cheesy horror flicks lend themselves to cliches. In fact, when films of these kinds break from the formula, it can have disastrous results.
But when a movie tries to do something different, then stumbles back into the rut of cliches, that can be a real problem. And these are the problems with “Lawless.”
The movie starts out on a slippery slope, being based on a true story. It follows the three Bondurant brothers in 1931. Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) are moonshiners in the back woods of Virginia. Business is booming for all moonshiners and bootleggers, while the violence is staying in the big cities. However, when a ruthless new deputy (Guy Pearce) tries to muscle into their business, the brothers go to war.
With a set-up like this, I was expecting “The Untouchables” in the hills. All the elements were there for that, and the marketing sure seemed to be pointing in that direction. Sure, there’s bloodshed and bullets, but these scenes are few and far between. Even when we get the promised gunfights, they’re cobbled, sickly versions of them. All power is left behind with very little action or intensity.
Instead, the film tries to be a character piece, focusing on the very different brothers. Howard is a bit of a waste, considering he’s just a stumbling drunk guzzling his own product. He’s left almost completely undeveloped, which is a real kick in the teeth to Jason Clarke. (Though few people are going to go into this movie knowing who this guy is, compared to knowing who Tom Hardy or Shia LaBeouf are.)
However, in concentrating on the other brothers, the film manages to be woefully formulaic and completely off-base at the same time. Forrest is the leader of the operation with a reputation of being invincible. However, he’s presented as a stoic, quiet leader who only lashes out when he has to. This has become the cliched role of Tom Hardy, in essence revamping his role from the wildly overrated “Warrior” from last year.
Furthering the been-there-done-that character set-up is LaBeouf as the young upstart whose meddling and eagerness threaten their operation. Jack is looking for fresh ways to expand the business and capitalize on the Prohibition profits from the bigger cities.
But Jack is nothing but a walking cliche. He’s the 1930s equivalent of a pimping gansta thug who drives flashy cars and wears the finest suits. LaBeouf, who took a brief respite from being in every damn film released in theaters a couple years ago, hasn’t really developed the acting chops we might have expected. He’s still just playing an accented version of Sam Witwicky from the “Transformers” films.
To add to the bloated, overly long story, the film throws in love interests for both Forrest and Jack, played by Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, respectively. The problem with these ladies is (aside from Chastain being almost as overrated and overexposed as LaBeouf once was) neither storyline has any original meat. They fit a formulaic mold worse than the guys they’re in love with. Chastain plays the former showgirl trying to escape her life and falling in (at least for a short time) unrequited love with Forrest. Wasikowska plays the conservative church girl who has a fling with the outlaw.
Seriously, every time either one of these ladies have dialogue, you can tune out completely and not miss any relevant information to the overall plot.
There are some decent elements to the film, like the cinematography and the performances of Hardy. Plus, Gary Oldman as the big city gangster Floyd Banner elevates some scenes. It’s too bad that Oldman only gets about ten minutes of screen time.
In the end, “Lawless” isn’t a bad movie. It’s just a boring, pointless one.