A very watchable, somewhat pulpy 1920's bootlegging drama with a strong cast and a sharp cutting edge. Shia LaBeouf outside of the clumsy hands of Michael bay and his awful space robot movies is a decent actor, and you only need to glance over the cast list to know this is unlikely to be a washout; although Gary Oldman is only on screen about three or four times. Working against this is the slack pacing that never really builds to anything that exciting. And Guy Pearce's character is too much the one dimensional bad guy along-side what are supposed to be real life people. Uneven reality, and slack pacing aside, this is one of the stronger crime movies of the year.
Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Howard (Jason Clarke), and Forrest (Tom Hardy) Bondurant are successful bootlegging siblings in Franklin, Virginia during prohibition. The law doesn't bother them, they are well liked in town, and allegedly, Forrest is unkillable. Things shake up with two new arrivals from Chicago: Maggie (Jessica Chastain), a waitress with a past, and Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), an eyebrow-less FBI agent who wants a cut of the business. The Bondurants refuse to bow down, and Jack tries to court Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) in his spare time. But Rakes won't give up, and when he decides to make it personal, all hell breaks loose.
When your violent gangster movie features Tom Hardy as a hulking yet wise tough guy with a penchant for brass knuckles and a reputation for surviving death, why make his little brother the main character? Especially when that brother is Shia LaBeouf and is cowardly, useless, and the cause of every bad thing that happens to the characters in the film? Also, why go through the trouble of having Gary Oldman if you only have him in one scene? So yeah, the plot and characters of Lawless aren't great. In fact, both are pretty boring. God knows the actors work hard with nothing, but there's a limit. The script by Nick Cave (seriously?) is hyperbolic, shallow, and confusing, and like in The Road, Hillcoat's direction is much too slow.
As I said earlier, it sucks to see things go to waste, especially an interesting story like Lawless that could've been a unique and interesting prohibition film. I admit that I'm a bit tired of big-city shootouts and fedoras. But Lawless is so endless and monotonous that I'm reconsidering that. Not much happens, but the film takes so long to do anything that I couldn't get invested. It's also relentlessly and cartoonishly violent, which is completely unnecessary and only served to take me further out of the story.
Saying that I was disappointed by Lawless wouldn't be true. But at the same time, I know it could've been so much more. Especially since it's a true story, which should've been a reason to attach emotionally to the characters and narrative. Sadly everything is underdeveloped; the people are uninteresting, the dialogue is insipid, the plot is a mess, and the pacing is terrible. Lawless probably would've been silly no matter who made it, but it could at least have been more fun to watch. So stay away, because something nasty got into the moonshine.
This isn't necessarily a groundbreaking look at Prohibition, but it certainly has its share of romance, shootouts, and villainy that you need for a movie like this. 8/10.