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April 15, 2024

Lawless: Nearly Flawless

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Rated R

Bernie said:

So it's been a pretty good movie season so far. The Avengers has certainly been the highlight to date, but then again that doesn't mean it was the best movie. Indeed, one hopes that there are some meaty movies coming up between now and the end of the year or the Oscar's category of Best Picture might have to be changed to Best They Could Come Up With Picture. The Avengers was a whopping good time, very well done, and loads of fun, but it was after all a comic book story and probably not weighty enough to qualify as Best Picture. Hunger Games was novel enough, and pretty well done, but once again, I don't think there was sufficient nutritive value needed to garner the Oscar.

Much of what I read says that all the Oscar contenders have yet to be seen, with quite a few of the predictions tending toward The Master due out later this month. In this movie, "a Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader." (I quoted that from the imdb.com web site.) Sounds like something Oscar would be attracted to. Perhaps I'll try to get Sand to put on her best floral print muu muu and see if we can pass as sophisticated enough to be admitted to this one. Then again Anna Karenina and Spielberg's Lincoln are also due out, so there may be some good stuff yet to come this year.

After this summer's run of fluff, Sand I and went to Lawless this past week. A fictional account of a bootlegging family based on a true story, this might not have been a film I would have wanted to see, but I was drawn to the movie by the cast -- Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska. These are artists by whom I have been intrigued over the past few years, and here they were all in one spot. This movie, simply by virtue of these actors, had tremendous potential.

The story follows the exploits of the Bondurant brothers in Prohibition era Franklin County, Virginia. It is a time and place where what is right was what was expedient, and what was expedient was tapping into the moonshine economy created by Prohibition. Everything was fine until an unscrupulous and sadistic lawman from Chicago is called in to clean things up, not as in make sure nothing illegal is going on, but rather as in a larger cut of the illegal activities must go to the "authorities" so that they can look the other way. And thus the stage is set for a confrontation between the violent and ruthless -- yet honorable -- outlaws, and the violent and ruthless -- yet reprehensible -- lawmen.

Did it work? Absolutely, resoundingly yes! (Almost.) This is a visually gorgeous movie, transporting you effectively back into 1920's Franklin County. There is a great soundtrack. There is some just riveting acting, in fact acting so good that it elevates this movie well above where the story alone might have carried it. Of course, I am a Jessica Chastain junkie and have been a fan of Gary Oldman ever since his Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg performance in Fifth Element, and if Tom Hardy has not proven himself to you to this point, he will do so here. Even Shia LaBeouf turns in a pretty darn good performance as the youngest Bondurant brother, better than I would have anticipated. If there is any complaint about the acting, it is that Gary Oldman's character doesn't get nearly enough screen time.

The story moves right along. The characters are well enough developed that you can begin to identify with them and take a real interest in them, and action is well paced.

So, is this a great movie? Is it Oscar material? Almost. It is a good movie and a well told tale. However, the story does not deliver much more than a good ole' tall tale told around the campfire of the exploits of Pappy Bondurant and his two brothers. There is no unique point of view, there is no deep truth uncovered, there is no truly remarkable triumph of the human spirit. The filmmaking and the acting are pretty close to what Oscar might be looking for, but this story will not catch his eye.

Lawless will probably not be Best Picture this year, but this is a movie for which you will nonetheless get a nice return on your entertainment dollar. This is one that is worth the trip uptown to see in the movie house.

Sand said:

Once again, my astute spouse has hit the nails on the head.

I'm not often an R-rated movie fan, but the cast of Lawless was irresistible. I was curious to see what Hardy, Chastain, LaBeouf, Wasikowska, and especially Oldman would bring to such a violent tale.

How did I know that it would be violent? I've been educated on the Prohibition Era by Tracy Butler, and though her story is set in the city, there is a good bit of backwoods in it as well ... and lots of violence. Lackadaisy's drawings are "cute," but as Ms. Butler herself says: "When dealing in sociopathic criminalism and gratuitous violence, how could it not be cats?" And so I was not surprised at the amount of blood shed in this movie.

In spite of the bullets and brass knuckles, Lawless is beautiful to look at, and the soundtrack enhances the scenes perfectly.

The only regret I have is that Lawless is much too violent and cruel to buy the DVD -- we've got kids in the house, and that R rating is deserved. I would love to see the movie again some day, but it will have to be limited to Netflix.

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-09-03
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