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IN SHORT: Too serious for a good sit.. [Rated R for Bloody Violence, Language and Some Sexuality/Nudity. 115 minutes]
Before we go any farther, let us be clear that director John Hillcoat has made a very good film. Technically, and story-wise, it is a better film than more than half of the stuff we sit for, day in and day out. That doesn't make it a better or more enjoyable film to sit through -- here we pause to remind readers that "enjoyment" is not necessarily all that counts in film review. It is, for this revieswer, a heck of a lot. While Lawless is not as awful as the truly awful stuff we endure day in and day out, it is not a film that had any kind of great effect on us, on any of the levels that a film should.
Lawless is the [based on true events] tale of the brothers Bondurant: Howard (Jason Clark) is a WWI vet who has been a wee bit unhinged by his war experience. Forrest (Tom Hardy) faced his own "war," against an epidemic of Spanish Flu that killed both parents and left the brothers with little in the way of gainful employment, meaning that they are bootleggers in the middle of Prohibition.
That brings us to 1931, where little brother Jack (Shia LaBoeuf) -- first seen in a prolog/ flashback to 1920 that has him refusing to kill a pig -- is dissed by his brothers as a wimp. This, of course, makes him the focus of the story, which is as much about his developing relationship with a Mennonite woman called Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska) while establishing his own bootlegging operation with a crippled friend named Cricket (Dane DeHaan), as it is about brother Forrest -- who mumbles so badly (we) could barely understand the dialog -- and his relationship with Maggie (Jessica Chastain), fleeing her life as a dancer in Chicago.
We'll wait while you re-read that run on sentence which passes for a paragraph and try to remember the name of the teacher we had in junior high who would be screaming at us about said paragraph. Okay, onwards. . .
The success of the Bondurant's operation catches the attention of the Feds. Special Deputy named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is dispatched from Chicago to shut them down. Rakes is, in the terminology of the times, a "real dandy." Compared to the normal folk of Virginia, his high fashion clothing and citified manner would make him out to be the sissy (apologies for the out-dated terminology) but once in action, the Deputy is revealed to be a highly vicious, corrupt "lawmaker" who is more than willing to take payoffs from the locals.
The problem is, of course, that the Bondurant Brothers, for reasons known only to themselves, believe themselves to be invincible. They also refuse to make the payoffs that would keep Rakes content and indifferent to their bootlegging operation, and violence ensues. If you have a weak stomach this film, which uses just about anything that is not a gun as a weapon, is not for you.
All that said, everything laid out just sit and waits for the dramatic explosion that should come and never does.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Lawless, he would have paid . . .
Everything that a film needs to be a massive success is present in Lawless. The story is complete. The actors perform well. The problem is that nothing builds in the audience, which means Cranky, that makes the film "explode" when everything comes to the inevitable climax.
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