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.
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.
But this is a very slow-paced movie and not one to watch again.
Expertly crafted by John Hillcoat, Lawless has great performances, particularly that of Guy Pearce, and feels like a love letter to the kinds of movie we used to get about 40 years ago.