In a year that brought us shipwrecks Battleship and Total Recall, it’s damn refreshing, if not bittersweet, to see a film that goes back to basics and treats us audience with respect. Lawless is far from an eyesore of a movie, unlike many that gets thrown up from the Hollywood shit machine. Here, we get to witness a strong and moving storyline, convincing characters, and some gritty, gory and knuckle-gnawing violence that renders Lawless as a defiantly old school and ferocious western gangster tale.
The storyline is not that complex, the direction not that lavish, and the characters thankfully do not bombard you with their inner fucking turmoil. What we get instead is a genuinely crafted and nostalgic portrait of Prohibition Era rural America – deeply rooted in an unsophisticated world, governed by strict moral codes and blood debts, where the most feared is the most respected.
At the core of this outlaw drama, are the Bondurant brothers, running a bootlegging business. They are not your usual class of gangsters, but rather living by the laws of the wild, territorial instinct, and biting only when their tails are stepped at. Hillcoat uses a great amount of shocking violence, however it does not serve only as sheer spectacle, but rather uses violence to expose these characters’ power to stand one’s ground as well as marks the Bondurants as a metaphor of survival instinct. The director applies both misé-en-scene and the soundtrack to emphasize the balance between the brothers and the nature. The aesthetic approach to the misty, wooded environment adds an animalistic quality to the protagonists, a force that’s soon disrupted by a metropolitan intruder Deputy Rake (a creepy yet charismatically convincing Guy Pearce, minus the eyebrows, plus a morbid hair split and looking like a sexless variation of Lady Gaga in a suit), so deviant and morally degraded, a man you wouldn’t want to rub elbows with.
Kudos to Hillcoat and the casting ensemble for delivering superb performances and providing some honest-to-goodness storytelling. Lawless is not another mainstream brainwashing crap, but rather reinforces male stereotypes of unattainable standards and treats woman as pretty charm tokens (or should I say mere walking pair of boobs) quite the opposite. The film awards its heroines with rich and dynamic characters and celebrates masculinity with all its flaws.
Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf all excel as the brothers, but it is LaBeouf who conveys the most dynamic character arch, and this is from the same guy whose acting career previously required being chased around by robots in Transformers. It’s the last you expect when you are next to a towering actor like Tom Hardy, but LaBeouf silences all his biased haters and more than stands his ground among cinematic giants Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman (here playing a high calibre outlaw, appearing rarely, but stealing every minute he is on screen). LaBeouf’s Jack provides an honest portrayal of a boy stripping of his innocence to become a man and marks his untamed and uncorrupted brothers as folks who are at the brink of the extinction – whereas the youngest Jack is the new generation, a harbinger of the new era, where men with guns will be exterminated by the boys with smart suits.
Lawless is somehow nostalgically beautiful and dangerously engaging, with solid characters who are badass enough to elevate the story to a breathlessly thrilling level without burdening audience with relic smartass comments and charmless goons. It certainly is not another disposable entertainment.
Lawless is a blood-filled crimson ruby. A fresh take on a dying classical gangster genre, a pleasurable alternative to the recycled superhero trash spat out of the Hollywood shit machine, where real, vulnerable men, not heroes, bravely fights against the corrupted system.