Lawless - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Lawless Reviews

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Super Reviewer
October 30, 2015
Not a terrible visit to the backcountry hills of ol'Virginny (as English and Australian actors continue to overrun Yank filmography) where some moonshiners run afoul of duh law (vilely personified herein by Guy Pearce, Australian, with hissy fits aplenty). Leading the good guys (that'd be the moonshiners in this biopic) is I'm-wearing-muh-hat-lo'-so-yah-cahn't-see-muh-eyes Tom Hardy (English, I believe) who is as tough as your mother-in-law drunk and passed out on the couch which she just peed on, your couch. Jason Clarke (another Aussie) is the muscle middle brother, and Gary Oldman (English, forcryinoutloud) is a rival in the mix as well. Are there any Yanks in this story about the real America (where everyone wears their hats down over their eyes)? They're only in supporting roles. And they get whupped. Real bad. I blame the Aussie director, duh. The movie's okay though.
Super Reviewer
½ August 29, 2012
Three brothers in the bootlegging business during the prohibition era refuse to bow to the will of Chicago gangsters and provoke a war between their backwoods community and big city organised crime. John Hillcoat reunites with scriptwriter Nick Cave who collaborated on the atmospheric and characterful The Proposition for this old school gangster drama which unfortunately has neither of those qualities. Despite a promising cast, Lawless is a rather unengaging affair that's a little too admiring of some pretty unpleasant violence perpetrated by a singularly unlikeable bunch of characters. Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke are little more than a pair of mumbling thugs, Guy Pearce's gun toting dandy is little more than a caricature and Shia Lebeouf once again channels his simpering frat-boy persona and fails to conjure any kind of charisma or chemistry whatsoever. The film is attractive to look at and the screen ignites during Gary Oldman's all-too brief appearances but the editing is choppy and the characterisation unappealing and unconvincing. Ultimately Lawless has none of the weight or moral message of a serious drama, nor the excitement or sense of fun of an action film making for an uninvolving tale of a trio of "heroes" it's very difficult to care about.
Super Reviewer
September 24, 2012
A film about redneck moonshine bootleggers, well yeehaw!. Apparently this is an adaptation of a book which recounts true events from 1931 in the USA. The story is actually based on the author's real family from around this era, he seems to be proud of his relations criminal activities then. Well its based on fact so it makes the film more interesting.

Visually this film looks the business, its gritty, violent and thoroughly well made from top to bottom. I love how everybody looks in their costumes, this period in US history was a smart time and on film it always looks good.

The main issue with this film is thus, clearly its aiming for epic Oscar status, that's fine but its not good enough. The reason being, in my opinion, the creators can't decide what they want this film to be. Do they want an epic grand scale tour de force a' la 'The Godfather' or do they want a graphic novel style kick ass flick a' la 'Last Man Standing' or 'The Untouchables'?.

The film starts brilliantly, with a good dust up from Hardy showing his position within the film and then the coup de grace. Oldman strolls out into the middle of a dusty dirt street and proceeds to tommy gun an oncoming old Ford jalopy to pieces. This one sequence is over quickly but its overly awesome and really gets you in the mood for an ass kicking period flick.

After this great kick off the film tends to lull for much of the run time with sparse bits of violence. The whole thing is lost in limbo between wanting epic Oscar status or violent kick ass graphic novel type status. The issue being the film achieves neither but hangs somewhere in between like a lost tourist.

The other shame is the fact the two best characters and actors aren't involved enough. Oldman is hyper as usual and just needs more screen time here, its as simple as that (although his character does remind me of Chris Walken's character of 'Hickey' in 'Last Man Standing') .

Whilst the best character by far is Pearce as the slimy nasty dastardly 'Rakes'. A kind of polar opposite to Elliot Ness, Ness was a crusading good cop while 'Rakes' is a crusading bad cop. He's only doing his job and upholding the law but in a really bent way hehe.

Both these guys NEEDED more screen time as they both rocked ass and looked damn good doing it. Alas we're stuck with lots of the dreadful Labeouf (how does this guy get work!!?) and the very much overrated Hardy who yet again mumbles his way through this film also. This guy really isn't much of an actor, sorry to all you Nolan fanboys out there, tis the reality.

Despite the two guys I've mentioned most of the characters aren't exactly original, there is nothing new on offer here from this era, standard fair. The violence is harsh thundering and cool but admittedly cliched for this type of film, the thing is that's the best thing about the film.
Without much of the violence this would be a poor epic wannabe, with the violence its good fun but not as good as 'Last Man Standing' or 'Untouchables'.

To be frank the plot is highly basic and doesn't really deserve a film made about it. That said I can't deny that it looks lush and the brutal glorification of prohibition-era Virginia violence is too good to miss.

Hands up who wants to see Oldman smash some hood across the head with a big metal shovel in a fit of rage?, yeah that's what I thought, of course you do.
Nikhil N.
Super Reviewer
August 7, 2013
Lawless is amazingly well-acted and shot, while its story seems lacking. It is dark and violent and entertaining. Even more impressive is the fact that Lawless recognizes that it is in the end nothing but a popcorn flick. Many other movies of this sort will try to salvage themselves in the final acts, but Lawless dies gracefully, never taking itself too seriously. This movie is the best kind of eye-candy out there. That being said, Lawless is still just eye-candy
Super Reviewer
June 15, 2013
What was even the point of having one of the greatest actors alive in a five minute role, i love Gary Oldman it was a shame we didnt see more of him!
All in all the acting was top notch but i didnt find the movie to be that overly interesting or engaging!
I will watch again with lower expectations!
Super Reviewer
February 12, 2013
We are in prohibition time, in the countryside in Virginia. The men are tough and they enforce their own law protecting their moonshine businesses. However they aren't the cringing redneck cliché of many other films; this isn't Deliverance. This is a dark movie where it seems those outwith of the religious community live and survive by force. In comes law enforcers from outside led by a sadistic sergeant, and we have an explosive mix.
Again, don't get the wrong impression. This film isn't about gung-ho good v evil. This is a lot more. Based on a true story (albeit likely taking big liberties with the truth), this is about the relationship of three brothers: two are ruthless whilst the third (Le Beouf) is weak. They look out for each other and that's the real nub.
Action comes generally in short sharp moments, but thankfully doesn't detract from the rest of the movie. Surprisingly some great acting and great camera work.
Personally, I enjoyed this very much. Ending was the only bit I was disappointed with but rest was very good. Give it a try, you may be surprised with what you find. 5 Stars 2-9-12
Super Reviewer
½ May 18, 2012
Based on a book inspired by true events (though how much of this is actually true is debatable), this is the story of Jack Bondurant and his brothers Howard and Forrest who ran a profitable business as bootleggers with their homemade moonshine throughout Prohibition in Franklin County, Virginia.

The film follows them as they struggle to keep their business alive in the wake of the wrath of a corrupt and brutal special deputy named Charley Rakes, who will stop at nothing to get a cut of the locals's profits.

Shia LaBeouf is good as Jack, the youngest, whose grandson wrote the book that musician Nick Cave adapted this screenplay from. Yeah, the same Nick Cave from the group The Bad Seeds. He's not just a musician, having authored a couple of novels, and one other screenplay besides this. He also provides the score, along with his bandmate Warren Ellis and a few friends of theirs, including legendary bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley.

LaBeouf shakes off the grime from the Transformers films, and is quite convincing as the runt of the family trying to prove his worth. As Howard, Jason Clarke is fine, but rather underwhelming. The real scene stealer of the Bondurant clan is Forrest, played strongly by Tom Hardy, who is easily becoming a guy worth watching, as he's destined to become a legend. Gary Old,an is solid, if sadly underutilized as a gangster for whom Jack develops some hero worship, especially when he comes to his aid. When Hardy isn't the scene stealer, Guy Pearce is. As Rakes, he is profoundly intense, creepy, and makes for one memorable villain. Of course we have some love interests played by the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, and, while the could have been given better material (and more to work with in general), they make the best out of what they're given.

I do like Cave as a writer, and while his score here is fine, I prefer the works that put him on the map. I'm not opposed to his non-musical exploits however, as I found one of his novels to be, if nothing else, an interesting and curious read. His script here is okay, but very underwritten. It really doesn't offer much depth beyond the bare basics of the outlaw story formula, but it could have been worse. Obviously it could have been better, given the source material and subject matter, and, had it been beefier, it probably would have.

I'll let it slide though, despite the fact that the film drags on about half of the time. I'm being lenient because I dig the subject matter, loved the cinematography, and thought John Hillcoat provided some decent direction. The period details and locations are nice too. The film is also smart about not pulling punches with the story, and indeed there are some grisly moments here. It's just a shame that most of the big stuff was saved for the end, with only a few moments of rough stuff here and there leading up to it.

All in all, this is a flawed film. I should be a lot harder on it, but, while I recognize the problems, I can't deny that it was entertaining, and had some good acting. Give it a watch.
Super Reviewer
½ January 31, 2013
The last film that director John Hillcoat and screenwriter/musician Nick Cave collaborated on was the 2005 neo-western "The Proposition". Four years later, Hillcoat went on to make his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (on which Cave supplied the music) but now they are together again with Cave back on screenwriting duties. If you're familiar with the aforementioned films then you'll also be familiar with the sark sense of realism that they bring. This is no different and just as good as anything they've produced so far.
In Franklin County, Virginia, in 1931, the Bondurant brothers: Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) run a distillery and bootlegging business in Moonshine. However, the District Attorney decides to clamp down on the bootleggers as Prohibition is introduced. To enforce the law, crooked and unscrupulous, Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is brought in to bring the brothers down but the Bondurant's refuse to yield.
When the reviews of this film started flooding in, the opinions were less than favourable, leading me to lower my expectations. In many ways, I'm glad this happened as I found plenty to enjoy here and feel that the film may be a little harshly criticised. For a start - as mentioned earlier - Hillcoat has completely captured the gritty realism required. His feel for the time and place and eye for detail is highly impressive and it's accompanied by an excellently evocative score by Cave and Warren Ellis. From the offset, it establishes it's methodical and deliberate pace. It builds slowly but assuredly and spends quite a bit of time on character development; LaBeouf impresses with his, runt of the litter, leading role but the standout's among the cast are a brooding Hardy and an extremely corrupt and unsavoury Pearce. However, this particular path that it treads so well, is also the films undoing. Too much time is spent on some characters and not enough on others; Chastain has little to do but still manages to do well, with what she's got. The third member of the Bondurant brothers (Jason Clarke) is underwritten but again squeezes enough from the material he's given and still manages to make an impact amongst a high calibre cast. The most criminally underused is Gary Oldman, though. It builds his character up and then doesn't let him loose. Oldman is an actor that excels in these type of roles, yet it would seem that most of his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Regardless of their screen time, everyone manages to pitch in here, though, and if this wasn't a talented collection of performers, then some would have faded into the background. The fault with this has to lie in the hands of Nick Cave and his patchy, underwritten script. The conclusion is rushed and unsatisfactory and despite promising an enticing confrontation between it's central characters, it fails to deliver. Maybe this would have led it down the formulaic path but I still would rather have that, than the ending we are provided. That being said, I still found this to be an engrossing, atmospheric and vivid depiction of depression-era times. It definitely does have it's flaws and if you scratch the surface you'll find a generic crime film but it's so richly textured that it's flaws are, mostly, forgivable.
Much like the old Jalopy's that they drive, this doesn't quite have the mileage to see it comfortably to it's destination but it still a thoroughly involving, if occasionally bumpy, ride.
Super Reviewer
January 12, 2013
Ok...3 3/4's here. I am a Tom Hardy fan, but I can't say that I was comfortable with him in this role. As a matter of fact, I had to put subtitles on just to understand what the heck he was saying. All in all, though, the acting was top notch from the main actors to supporting cast. Guy Pearce is virtually unrecognizable as the 'baddie' in this film - and does an excellent job. THAT ALONE is worth a watch, because he runs away with this film, in my opinion....
Super Reviewer
January 4, 2013
Not without a few hiccups along the way, "Lawless" is a great prohibition-era drama with top-level acting, direction and photography. One of the standout crime films of 2012.
Super Reviewer
½ December 22, 2012
Based on a true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers; this Depression-era crime drama has a lot going for it but slightly misses the mark on being the gangster epic that it strives for. The film greatly benefits from a wonderful cast consisting of Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, and Jessica Chastain. Gary Oldman gives a brief but still good turn as the ruthless gangster Floyd Banner while Guy Pearce gives a great scene-stealing performance as the disturbing federal agent Charley Rakes. Pearce manages to make the character fun but also so despicable that you still root for his defeat. Director John Hillcoat succeeds in conveying a gritty and convincing atmosphere of 1930's Virginia, with plenty of creative sequences to go around. It's a bit of the shame that the narrative does not quite work as whole though, as it's bogged down by an unnecessary romance subplot, lack of character arcs, and a too-good-to-be-true happy ending that robs the film of being thought-provoking in a meaningful way. Still recommended viewing though.
Super Reviewer
December 22, 2012
Based on the true story of the Bondurant Brothers, bootleggers in Prohibition-era Virginia. This is a violent gangster story about family, chasing the dream, and remaining loyal to those you love. It's also about how indestructible Tom Hardy is. Great cast with Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy, and Shia LaBeouf. This is probably the best performance I've seen to date by Shia LaBeouf. Tom Hardy does awesome as well, except his character tends to mumble a lot and can be hard to understand at times. The movie drags a bit towards the middle, but once it picks back up, it picks up greatly. When I first saw previews for this I didn't think it looked that good, but I had a couple friend recommend it, and they were right. If you enjoy gangster movies, then this will be right up your alley.
Market Man
Super Reviewer
½ December 12, 2012
"Lawless" is a mediocre film that just misses the mark to be something exceptional. With such a talented cast and decent director, I expected this film to be much better. But in the end it's forgettable due to the many flaws in story/character development.

So let's discuss the story. It's thin, boring, and doesn't really go anywhere. We are introduced to a conflict that seems like it will be engaging but unfortunately it isn't. This is because of the two pointless love stories that take away from the narrative. There's also a side plot involving Gary Oldman that could have been interesting had it been utilized better.

The three brothers are so one-dimensional it's not even funny. We never really get to know them, and while the acting is great, the depth is lacking. Howard Bondurant, played by Jason Clarke, is so underdeveloped he didn't even need to be in the film.

So "Lawless" has a weak story and weak characters. It's entertaining to some extent but could have been more so if it had better pacing. Getting rid of the countless side stories that have no significance seems like a good start.
Super Reviewer
August 29, 2012
Lawless is a fantastically acted and mounted gangster film with plenty of pulpy violence and tension that only lets up during the final minutes. The only flaw I can see is that some of the subplots get shortchanged and not fleshed out enough (especially an excellent one with the always underrated Gary Oldman). Lawless has an oustanding portrayal of prohibition era America and all of the acting is great. Guy Pearce is especially good as the vile deputy who just oozes menace from the get go. He is the kind of character you immediately hate. Shia LeBeouf plays the main character who narrates the story and he reminds me of the talented young kid I remember and not the actor who was wasted in blockbuster drivel. Tom Hardy & Jason Clarke have smaller roles than those two, but are nonetheless effective in playing the elder brothers who are very deadly. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska round out the superb cast. This is my favorite of Hillcoat's movies so far (although it seems I'm in the minority on that) and he continues to be a director to watch.
Super Reviewer
April 25, 2012
"The stories focus was that of the three brothers and the steps they took to protect their business and themselves from a ruthless cop. I really liked this movie. I thought everyone did a great job and the story was really good. I was disappointed that I didn't see more of Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska, but their parts were mild. Tom Hardy keeps impressing me with each film I see him in. I was equally impressed with Shia LaBeouf. I thought he did a great job in this as well. I also enjoyed Dane DeHaan's performance. Everyone was great, but those three stuck out for me.
The movie is, at times, pretty gruesome and violent. I thought Gary did well in the mobster role. I wanted to see a bit more of that, but at last, he still did good in his small role.
I really did enjoy this movie and will definitely be seeing it again."
Super Reviewer
October 6, 2012
A total powerhouse. A true knockout of acting, writing and directing. Director, John Hilcoat crafts a bold, bloody and brilliant masterpiece of a crime-drama. It packs a full-clip of action and drama and comes out all barrel's blazing with elements of a western and 1920`s gangster films. It`s compelling and gruesome. A dazzling, shocking, brutal and sensational film. A tough as nails, gripping and magnetic movie packed with power. A solidly crafted and stunningly well-performed piece. The cast is strong and deliver nothing short of great stuff. Tom Hardy is excellent, granted not his best performance of this or one of his best, but does a fine job. Guy Pearce is magnificent. Gary Oldman is electrifying, not a huge role but proves what a great actor can do with so little. Jessica Chastain is terrific. Shia Labeouf is at his best, proving since A Guide to Recognizing your Saints that he is movie stat potential. Jason Clarke is fantastic. A rich in character and wickedly entertaining thrill-ride.
Super Reviewer
November 27, 2012
A handsome looking but ultimately just average Prohibition drama concerning three bootlegging brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke) who get in deep with a corrupt deputy (Guy Pearce) after he demands a share of their profits. Standard testosterone-driven fare is guided extremely well by a terrific cast who manage to get this thing moving despite the story lacking any sort of humanity to it. The shoot-outs bring the goods, and for once Shia LaBeouf is able to actually ACT, as opposed to just running away from explosions like he's done in most of his other films - and he does a very good job. Hardy, one of the best actors of our time, is fantastic yet again. Overall though, very missable, just because you can see a lot of it coming and no real surprises are offered outside of a nice, subtle touch at its finale.
Super Reviewer
½ November 18, 2012
When the law became corrupt, outlaws became heroes.

Great Film! The acting is really strong; Tom Hardy's performance is probably his best so far. His voice is so different to his normal voice which really highlights how he has worked hard on his performance. I was really surprised by Shia LaBeouf's performance, he's never really impressed me but he gave a great performance here. He really proved that he could do some proper acting in the future and hopefully move away from the 'Transformers' series. Guy Pierce is outstanding here but his role becomes almost comical towards the end. He gives a great performance though and is quite disturbing. Gary Oldman gives a really good performance but has only 5 minutes screen time! It seems like such a waste, it would have been interesting to see his character included in the plot a lot more. Overall this film was fantastic but there was a few things that director John Hillcoat could have improved that would have made this film truly brilliant, such as giving more characters some crucial screen time. The violence was not really an issue; I don't think it diverted the film away from anything which is good. It contained the right amount of violence for the film and shouldn't put anyone off from watching this.

The three Bondurant brothers run a bootlegging operation during the depression, up in the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia. Crooked Special Deputy Charles Rakes is after a share of the brothers' profits. Compounding their troubles, the local competition is elbowing in on their activities. Forrest's boisterous defiance and Cricket's knack for moonshine production help the brothers gain a local monopoly. When Forrest is wounded as tension with Rakes escalates, Jack, initially the timid one, must prove his worth against gangster Floyd Banner's mob, and we see him metamorphose into a cocky exhibitionist in his attempts to woo the off-limits preacher's daughter, Bertha.
Super Reviewer
½ August 31, 2012
"Look at you. Swanning 'round like you're Al Capone." That's me saying that to you "Lawless". You got some striking visuals and commanding performances, but you shot for too high a mark and missed.

"Lawless", on paper, looked perfect: Great performers with the likes of Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Shia Labeof, and Guy Pearce; spectacular looking cinematography; and a narrative, which is based on a true story, with an interesting historical backing. And in a way, it went out as planned. Guy Pearce dominated every frame he was in, Gary Oldman took ownership of his scenes, and Shia Labeof -- though admittedly an uneven performance -- was exuberantly powerful in vital scenes. Cinematography was nothing short of atmospheric and the narrative, every now and then, would have magnetic scenes of thrills.

What went wrong? It doesn't know its identity. It had snippets of everything but ended up being overblown. Audiences are bound to leave theaters pondering to themselves, "So, what was the purpose of that film?" Well, there were large amounts of violence in there, but can't exactly be said to be an action or thriller cause there were large amounts of drama... but the drama didn't work either. There were snippets of thematic value as well, but even that wasn't solid enough to work with either. And that was its biggest culprit for "Lawless"'s failure: there was a lack of a theme, and when audiences were delivered, what may have been the central theme to the narrative, it was considerably lacking the powerful punch it wanted. Narrative-wise everything seemed to fall apart as characters -- though acted out superbly -- were about as fleshed out and interesting as a typical B-movie action star hero with a "past". By the end, all "Lawless" is, due to its failings, is a B-movie with an unusually high amount of blood and "drama" injected in. Why those quotation marks? There's a high amount of emotions spewing forth from the characters while on the other side of the screen, audiences remain there, unmoved in their comfy chairs.

"Lawless" was a huge disappointment. Altogether, it was an uninteresting movie that strives for epic proportions but fails miserably due to a lack of a true theme, identity, and altogether, an immovable plot. "Lawless" ends up being an overblown film that has elements of everything, but for nothing.
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