What happens when a maskless Bane takes over the Prohibition Era and starts selling his own bootleg alcohol? ‘Lawless’-ness.
‘Lawless’ desperately wants to be a gangster epic right up there with ‘The Untouchables’. However, this mobster story doesn’t take place in the streets of Chicago or New York. This tale of intimidating gangsters hails from the hills of Franklin County, Virginia – a place where the Bondurant brothers have cornered the illegal liquor trade.
The oldest and most menacing of the Bondurant bunch is Forrest (Tom Hardy). Fresh off of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, Hardy still sports his gruff Bane voice. Forrest is a legend around these parts largely due to his threatening size, but also partly due to the fact that he’s extremely hard to kill. The youngest brother is Jack (Shia LaBeouf), who tends to be more of a screw-up. At first, everything goes swimmingly for the brothers and their illegal operation. They have the local cops in their back pocket and no one wants to mess with big bad Forrest. That is, until a smarmy lawman moves in to procure the liquor trade in Franklin County for some bigwig mafia men from out of town.
The slimy lawman is played by Guy Pearce. Pearce is always at his best when he plays a character slightly less appealing than dog shit on the bottom of a shoe. Hair slicked back and hubris by the pound, Charlie Rakes makes life a living hell for the Bondurants. War is soon announced, since the Bondurants are too prideful to kowtow to a prissy out-of-towner like Rakes.
‘Lawless’ can be extremely enjoyable at times. It isn’t without acting talent. We all know what Hardy can do, and other actors like Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman round out the cast. The problem here is that Oldman, the movie’s most accomplished actor, has around five minutes of total screen time, which is a shame.
Much of the movie is spent discussing the power struggle between factions of gangsters who are all vying for a piece of the illegal alcohol trade. The movie is at its best when it focuses on this. Unfortunately, when we’re subjected to LaBeouf trying to woo Wasikowska, the movie wanders and loses focus.
‘Lawless’ builds and builds until a climax that comes off as more of a whimper than a bang. I liked how the movie gets to where it’s going – with all its brutal violence and illegal alcohol warfare – but once it gets there, the wind escapes from its sails. The film just sort of ends and ties everything up in a nice narrative bow. It feels too conveniently sewn up at the end.