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Prohibition crime dramas are generally a funny genre of films. Not funny as in comedic, but weird – you always expect shootouts like those in Howard Hawks’ “Scarface” but you rarely ever get them. You do often see movies like John Hillcoat’s “Lawless” – which makes great promises that it just can’t possibly keep.
Franklin County, Virginia is the setting and it is considered “the wettest county in the world” in Hillcoat’s (the director of “The Road”) newest work – mostly because of the influence of the Boudrant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LeBeouf) who bootleg the majority of the alcohol that goes through the county. The problem is that there are too many guns out there – and too many people that want to fatten their pockets. Surely, the Boudrant family is not one to stand down to authority, and a showdown ensues.
“Lawless” starts out strong. Since I’ve been exposed to Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2008 “Bronson,” there’s nothing action-related I’d rather see than Tom Hardy punching people – and the punches he throws early here are brutal, even if they aren’t real. People; this is the man who was brilliant in “Warrior.” It’s hard to believe that he is still an actor and hasn’t somehow turned into a UFC fighter or boxer, but maybe it’s for the better of his potential opponents that he hasn’t. You can feel Hardy’s power and energy every time he moves. Yet, his badassery is only present in the first half of the film… it literally disappears in the second half.
On a similar note, want to know how I know the studio got its hands on this film before its release? Simply because of the absence of actor Gary Oldman halfway through the movie after being featured in the previews and being listed as the fourth-billed member of the cast. After a moment where he furiously freaks out mid-movie, his iconic, all-ruling gangster character is nowhere to be found. Yet another major plot point that just vanishes into thin air. My suspicion is that Hillcoat sent in a 3 hour long cut with a more explanatory and meaningful plot, only to be turned down and forced to chop it up to ensure it can play more times during a day at the theater so the studio executives can get more revenue.
The casting of “Lawless” is perfect. Yeah, Tom Hardy obviously is the ideal badass, Shia LeBoeuf is the perfect whining baby and Jason Clarke is beyond comparison as a drunken hothead. But where the cast is at its best is in the women – Jessica Chastain (“The Tree Of Life”) and Mia Wasikowska (“Alice In Wonderland”) are the perfect personifications of virtuous women drawn into the arms of mythical heroes. There are women like this everywhere, but few in Hollywood other than these two could characterize the innocence that actually exists within girls in these situations.
Even though the cast is perfect, the fighting is fun and there’s a good amount of blood and gore (even puke), “Lawless” is a weak effort. It is completely anti-climactic and loses its lawlessness as the United States comes nearer and nearer to passing the 21st Amendment; seriously, what kind of fun is a movie that shows you the best stuff first?
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