Lawless – A DVD Review

Lawless has all the ingredients to be a pretty entertaining movie by my standards: a bunch of actors I like, based on a true story, gangsters and violence. However, it failed to hold my attention throughout the movie; a meandering story and some too over the top characters failed to fully engage me. There are some solid performances here, but mayhem can’t cover up the flaws in the plotting. Lawless commits the biggest sin of them all: it was boring.

Set in the 1930s, Lawless tells the tale of three bootlegging brothers in Franklin County Virginia: Forrest (Tom Hardy), the stoic leader of the group; Howard (Jason Clarke), the enforcer; and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the runt of the group who serves primarily as their driver, but wants to do more. When Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) rolls into town demanding a cut of the profits from all the bootleggers in the county, the Bondurant brothers are the only ones to refuse to give in to the intimidation. Thus begins a war between the brothers and the Special Deputy, which results in a lot of bloodshed.

I’m the not the world’s biggest Shia LaBeouf fan, but he’s pretty solid as Jack. He’s given the most to do in this film, as the youngest brother tries to find his role in the family enterprise and tries to become a player in the bootlegging game, rather than a spectator. Lawless is really Jack’s journey, which is not all that surprising as the book that the film is based on (The Wettest County in the World) is written by the real Jack Bondurant’s grandson. Tom Hardy has the less showy performance and I don’t know if Forrest is a really supposed to be an emotionless guy or that’s just Hardy, but it quietly works for the most part. Jason Clarke is underutilized as Howard, the least fleshed out of the brothers. Clarke could have done a lot more if permitted.

The main issue with the film is that it doesn’t know how to get out of its own way. The central premise outlined above is enough to make an interesting film about, but whatever momentum that story has is repeatedly squashed by needless detours into less interesting subplots. Two of these subplots involve actresses that I like a lot (Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska); however, these stories are not all that developed and feel shoehorned into the rest of the movie. Perhaps they felt that there had to be some women in the film, but unfortunately these subplots serve more as a distraction more than anything else. The actresses did a good job, but their roles were unnecessary as written.

I also thought that Guy Pearce’s Special Deputy was so one note and over the top that is was just too much. You can be a charismatic bad guy – see Heath Ledger as The Joker – but there has to be balance and some subtlety. Special Agent Rakes was a bit of a straw man bad guy; he was a bunch of stereotypes and broad personality traits without a lot of substance. I didn’t need his entire back story, but a little more restraint in the performance or characterization would have been preferred. Perhaps Pearce was simply trying to liven up these proceedings; at least when he was on screen, things were interesting. It may have been a little cartoony, but I did pay more attention when he was in a scene.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • The Dark Knight Rises has kind of ruined Tom Hardy for me; now every time I see him in anything, I expect to hear that weird Bane voice coming out of his mouth. Actually, the Bane voice might have livened things up. I found Hardy mumbled a lot in Lawless.
  • For whatever other failings that Lawless has, the cinematography is beautiful. It’s a nice film to look at and I like the clothing from that time period. Not enough men wear hats anymore (other than ball caps).
  • Fun facts: James Franco and Ryan Gosling were originally attached to play Howard and Forrest, respectively. I love both actors, but that would have been very different takes on the characters. However, we know from Gangster Squad that Gosling would have looked fabulous in the clothing.
  • I’ve read a lot made of the violence of the film, which I didn’t think was really all that exaggerated. Maybe that says more about me and the movies I typically watched; your sensibilities may vary.
  • The movie poster is trying to cash in on Jessica Chastain’s recent rise to stardom; her character is a supporting character and mostly in the background.



The odd choice of pacing and the constant diversions into less compelling subplots holds Lawless back and makes it an uneven movie.  The actors do what they can, but ultimately this is a movie that has what could be an exciting premise that it ultimately refuses to take advantage of . The result is a film that never really takes off; there are sporadic moments of excitement, but Lawless is dull overall.


Pop Culture Odds and Ends – 12/12/12 edition

Happy 12/12/12 day – or to the good people of Wisconsin, Happy Aaron Rodgers Day! (I refuse to acknowledge what Bostonites are referring to today as.) I’m not really sure what we are supposed to be doing today to commemorate the last time we’ll see a date like this in our lifetime, other than pointing that fact out, but it’s still kind of fun. Mostly is has resulted in newspapers and news programs trying to find something interesting to say about today; my local paper went with discussing the significance of the number 12 in religion, math and myth. Seems like a stretch to me, but whatever.

So while you are pondering what today means in the grand scheme of things, take a little break to catch up on some of the pop culture stories that you might have missed in the last two weeks.

  • Fred Armisen and Bill Hader couldn’t hold it together during dress rehearsals for a sketch that didn’t make the final SNL broadcast.


  • I am sooooo loving the new Twitter account (@SeinfeldToday) that imagines contemporary Seinfeld episode premises. The person behind this nails it.


Get the gang back together. I would totally watch this!

  • Google has a fun Easter egg for Seinfeld fans. Type Festivus into Google and see what appears.
  • This one is a head scratcher – AMC has a comedy pilot in development titled We Hate Paul Reserve that centers on two brothers liking in Colonial Boston who don’t like Revere. Ooooookkkkkkaaaaayyyyy.
  • A sequel to the 2010 Angelina Jolie film Salt may be happening. I wonder if there is any chance that they will film here again – I missed out on stalking running into Brad Pitt last time.
  • Kevin Youkilis is now a New York Yankee – a move that seems to have managed to upset Red Sox and Yankee fans alike. I personally don’t care – we needed a temporary 3rd baseman and he was the best we could get – but it’s going to be an interesting season.
  • FX has ordered a pilot from the producers of Homeland. I hope it is better than this season of Homeland; the show when from great to inconsistent far too quickly for me.
  • Gwen Stefani joined her husband’s band Bush on stage over the weekend.


  • I’m fascinated by the people who do the set design and props for movies and TV shows. Entertainment Weekly talks to Parks and Recreation’s prop master about her favorite pieces.
  • A new trailer has been released for Man of Steel, the new Superman movie.

I’m pretty meh on this franchise; I’m usually all in for superheroes, but Superman isn’t doing it for me.

  • Busy Phillips (Cougartown, Freaks and Geeks) announced on Twitter that she is expecting her second child. She’s one of my faves, so I was happy to see the good news.
  • Avril Lavigne has covered a song by her fiancée’s band Nickelback. God help us all.


  • The Buffalo Bills have once again let me down. I’ll have to wait yet another year for the possibility of seeing a winning season.
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced the 2013 inductees. Congrats! Flavor Flav! Better luck next time, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and N.W.A.
  • DMX performs Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Fantastic!


  • I have no idea what to make of this rap battle between Santa and Moses (the latter is played by Snoop Dogg), but I’m pretty sure I can’t unsee it.


  • Loyal blog readers know that I am a fan of the mashup. I couldn’t resist this one – It’s Always Sunny in Homeland


  • Reading Rainbow Remix!


  • A man shot his girlfriend over an argument about The Walking Dead.
  •  And finally, what if the Breaking Bad credits were done in the style of The Wire? Wonder no more – feast your eyes on this epicness.