Apr 22, 2013

[Movies] Lawless (2012)

In order to meet my personal commitments to this blog, I end up watching a lot of movies just for the sake of having something to review. My Friday reviews are easier to deal with since I can dredge up any older movie that I've seen but have not written about. But on Monday I do my best to feature relatively "new" movies, as limited by what movies may have appeared this year and the one prior.

Lawless is one such movie - the kind of movie that we didn't opt to see at the theaters and just watched over the weekend. I only agreed to this movie since it's a fairly new one that fits my Monday blogging category. Plus it seemed to include quite a diverse cast of interesting actors that I hoped would make it a pretty good movie.

The movie is set during the period of Prohibition, which is a period of interest for me at the moment since I've finally gotten around to reading Empire State by Adam Christopher.

But this movie taught me that I'm probably more amenable to Prohibition stories told from the perspective of organized crime as opposed to moonshine runners.

Synopsis:Lawless is a 2012 crime drama movie based on the novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant. The movie was directed by John Hillcoat with a screenplay by Nick Cave.

It is 1931 and the Prohibition (on alcohol) is in full effect. The Bondurant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LeBeouf) have been running a decently successful moonshine smuggling business in Virginia. The use the gas station of young Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan) as a front for their little operation. But things change when the new Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) arrives and demands a cut of all the county's moonshine operations. But naturally the brothers refuse and Forrest goes on to actually threaten Rakes.

Forrest tries to rally support with the other bootleggers to little avail though since in time more and more of them agree to Rakes' terms. Rakes then continues to search for the distillation equipment being used by the brothers and eventually beats up Jack as a warning to them. Tensions continue to escalate as the brothers to continue to keep up their operations, avoid the scrutiny of Rakes and naturally sort out their own rather tangled affairs.

Now I admit that I don't always do well with certain types of period movies, and those that involve largely rural settings are a tad hit-or-miss for me. But I don't necessarily think that personal bias was what got in the way of me fully enjoying this movie - or at least that's my general impression of things.

The movie is based on a novel which was more or less based on a true story. Thus in theory one could argue that there's little to be done about the actual plot of the movie. However a story in itself can be told in any number of ways and for one reason or another this didn't feel like a good attempt at that. The movie never truly engaged me as a viewer as the brothers did their best to keep their illegal operations running against all odds. That may have to do more with the fact that we have little to go on in terms of their characters as to why we should feel motivated to care for them.

And this is not a jab at their acting either - the movie actually features a rather diverse cast of some notable stars. Apart from the brothers themselves, the movie also featured the likes of Jessica Chastain (from Zero Dark Thirty) and Gary Oldman. But still there was just a lot of talking going on over and over again and yet not the sort of conversation and dialog that would truly engage you as a viewer. So by the end I wasn't quite sure how I wanted things to resolve for them. And when things did get all tied up, it felt a tad rushed and not fulfilling at all.

So that brings us back to the direction for the movie and perhaps how that may explain for why it wasn't as striking as it could have been. And while certain shots and sequences were interesting enough, the burden of the narrative largely relied on the director's vision of things - something I did not come to fully appreciate here. Maybe I need to watch the movie again to figure things out, but at this point I don't feel motivated enough to want to do that.

So Lawless isn't precisely a "bad" movie. It's just not a very good one that seems to have wasted its potential. There are a lot of exciting stories to be told about the Prohibition era and all its misadventures and yet you also need to know how to tell that story well in order for things to prosper sufficiently. Thus the movie only rates 2 thick Southern accents out of a possible 5.

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