Movie Review: “Lawless” – Damn Near Flawless

Written by Jesse Gelinas September 05, 2012

 I swear that it is true.

Very rarely do I leave a theater genuinely smiling. It takes a certain kind of movie to have that effect on me. Some films can make you laugh out loud throughout, or tug your heartstrings until you get that special lump in the back of your throat, but once they end, you come back to reality and all is normal and mundane again. John Hillcoat’s latest expedition into the seedy underbelly of mankind is a grim, bloody, slow burning, bare-knuckle slam-to-the-throat of a film. I was grinning the whole way home.

**WARNING: Possible spoilers below trailer**

 

 I will tell you a story of a man and his family…

“Lawless” follows the lives of three brothers running a semi-respectable bootlegging business in Depression era Virginia. Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest of the three is on the outside of the action, but has dreams of being a big shot like the gangsters making headlines in Chicago. His older brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) keep the family relatively untouchable through fear and a general understanding with the local law. Unfortunately, a new Special Agent (Guy Pearce) is unleashed on Franklin County with an unchecked desire to see each of the brothers put down by any means necessary. Conflict ensues.

This movie sets out to do a dirty job, and it gets it done. This is one of those movies where everything and everyone is filthy (much like Hillcoat’s previous works). The action is brutal and unnerving. More than once I found myself grimacing as someone’s flesh was being excessively tenderized. The drama is genuine and you can truly see that this comes from a true story. Even the romantic subplots feel real and intense and in no way annoying or tacked on like so many others of the genre. Everything about the movie clicks in just the right way.

 All things move toward their end

Do you hate Shia Labeouf? I know I do. So why the hell does he get to be so damn good when he wants to be. Seriously, a truly solid, and at times mesmerizing performance. Guy Pearce is an absolute chameleon and raises the creepiness factor of his Charlie Rakes to new heights, making for a truly brutal villain. Tom Hardy is… oh, Tom, can you do no wrong? He makes everything he’s in just that much better. You mark my words, he’s on course to being the next Brando. The entire cast brings their A-game and shines as an ensemble. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I can think of a more well-acted film all year.

The success of the actors is thanks in large part to the fantastic screenplay by one of my personal heroes, Nick Cave. Don’t let the blood and sweat blind you; this is a thinking man’s story being told. Cave brings to the screen the same dark, brooding gravitas that his music carries, and the score he and collaborator Warren Ellis lend to the film manages to be ugly and beautiful at the same time. The pair’s contribution combined with Hillcoat’s fantastic direction make “Lawless” an absolute bloody joy to witness.

 Joy is so melancholy

This film will not be for everyone. Its content can border on graphic, its heroes riding a thin line of grey, and not much about the story is pleasant or uplifting. These were violent times in a violent business. But that’s not the point. As Forrest so eloquently states, “It is not the violence that sets men apart. It is the distance that he is prepared to go.” Well, this movie goes pretty far. I urge you to all follow it all the way.

 

My Rating: 9.5/10

 

 

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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