The 1920s. A period everyone who has any form of education should have at least a little knowledge of. Prohibition has just been enforced, outlawing the consumption or distribution of alcoholic beverages. But, as is the case for many other laws that are set in place to maintain “order,” some were meant to be broken. That is where the story picks up in Lawless, a film that transcends everything you read in your History textbook and presents itself in a realistically gritty manner and as a shockingly violent period piece.
Based on the novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, Lawless follows the Bondurant Brothers, three popular moonshiners in Prohibition era Virginia, who have just been detected by a crooked law officer. Placing threats on the brothers’ stills, this officer demands a portion of their incoming profits, or else justice will be enforced. The Brothers, not willing to give in without a fight, decide they must stand up and fight for their family’s business and reputation. I first heard about this movie’s production a few weeks ago, so, needless to say, this film caught me by surprise; and not only did it catch me, it swept me up in its grasp and took me on a two hour ride I will never forget.
Shia LaBeouf, the annoying kid who is known for screaming excessively in the “on-the-verge-of-being-horrendous” Transformers franchise takes one of the leading roles in this film, which, surprisingly, fits him nicely. In most of his roles, LaBeouf takes on the leading, hard headed, know-it-all type of character, which makes him look completely silly and unintimidating. In this film however, he plays the younger of the three Bondurant Brothers; a character who is laughed at and mocked for his lack of strength and physical build, which works for LaBeouf’s advantage, making him a surprisingly fun character in this film. The middle of the three brothers is played by Jason Clarke, who is very good in his role. Nothing is particularly memorable when it comes to his character, but he certainly doesn’t do a bad job, and he is a great addition to the cast here. The eldest of the three brothers, however, is played by none other than Tom Hardy. Hot off his role as Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy is an absolute sensation to watch on screen, with a deep voice that can intimidate with even just the slightest sound and his bulking physical structure that can make you shutter just by watching him stand still. Gary Oldman, coincidentally also coming hot off his role as Gordon in The Dark Knight Rises, may only be in the film for around ten minutes, but he gives a great performance, as usual. The best and most noteworthy performance in Lawless comes from the ever spectacular Guy Pearce. Pearce, who starred in Christopher Nolan’s Memento twelve years ago, completely disappears into this role, creating one of the best, psychotic, terrifically horrifying villains in recent years. Pearce is possibly the best villain in a film all year (and yes, I include Loki and Bane) and he is certainly deserving of an Oscar nomination come February.
Lawless has some good camera work and John Hillcoat’s direction is terrific, but the main aspect of this film that is great, apart from the performances, is the violence. This movie doesn’t have pervasive violence, but when it hits, it hits hard. This film has some of the most realistically choreographed fight scenes I have seen in a movie in a long time. This film distances itself from most movies like it in this way: when the violence has been going on for an extended period, it stops, but then, just when you think it’s over, it hits again, and again, until you can’t watch anymore.
Lawless features the best male performance in a movie so far this year, and it is empowered by a strong script, great direction, a sweet romantic sideline, and some of the most graphic, bloody, realistically edited violence I have seen in a while. This is, by far, one of the better films of 2012, and is the only one, apart from The Dark Knight Rises, that left me staggering out of the theater, jaw dropped, in awe of the truly epic experience I had just sat through.
Run Time: 115 mins
Rated: R for strong bloody violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity