Lawless: Moonshine Should Be More Fun Than This   Leave a comment

“You see, boy?  The real money’s in bootlegging, not in your childish vandalism.” – Homer Simpson
“Oh, so many wasted nights.” – Bart Simpson

Top Line: Lawless is, not to put too fine a point on things, a very bad movie, and for a number of reasons.  It manages to get bogged down by several subplots despite the fact that it never bothers to flesh out and finish any of them.  It takes itself very seriously even though the plot is cliched and dumb.  Its pacing puts the term herky-jerky to shame.  And it assembles a fine cast only to focus on the least interesting and likable member of it. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: The very bored, historical junkies with a penchant for masochism, and people drunk off their asses on moonshine.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Most people, historical junkies who do not have a penchant for masochism, and anyone with anything better to do. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:55m – It feels longer than it is and could’ve easily been a half hour shorter.
Rated: R – And just barely.  Most of the really nasty violence is implied rather than shown, there is a disappointing lack of creative hillbilly profanity, and Jessica Chastain gets briefly naked and topless (and looks fantastic), but it’s more perfunctory than necessary to what’s actually happening. 

Should Be Rated: PG-12

Three Stars:

  1. Tom Hardy – Mumble Prone, Hard Boiled Bootlegger:
    There isn’t much of this movie worth stealing, but what there is, Bane takes.
  2. Guy Pearce – Mincing (But Heterosexual) Villain:
    Does everything he can to provide a little bit of fun in a terribly weak and underwritten part.
  3. Jessica Chastain – Ex-Showgirl From the Big City:
    Crams a decent chunk of feeling into a criminally tiny role.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • -1 Meh.

Final Score: 1

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 You will get to see Guy Pearce viciously beat Shia LaBeouf, so it’s not all bad
  • +1 Tom Hardy is great
  • -1 This is an otherwise very unremarkable Prohibition flick
  • -2 It’s a movie about back country bootleggers and there isn’t a single car chase! 
  • -1 See Bechdel section below

Final Score: 3

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 Jessica Chastain is hardly in the movie, but makes her tiny subplot believable.
  • -1 They make Mia Wasikowska play LaBeouf’s girlfriend, a rebellious minister’s daughter, but don’t ever let her think or rebel on her own.  They didn’t even have the common courtesy to give her a chance to act a little by being rescued from the bad guy.  You could cut literally every scene with her character and not affect the main plot at all.
  • -2 Forget a scene where two named, female characters talk to one another, I’m not even sure there was a single scene with more than one woman in it.
  • -1 Even the romantic subplots are one-dimensional.

Final Score: 2

IMDb Sez:


  • John Hillcoat:
    Directed The Proposition (2005), which was as tough and bleak as Lawless wanted to be.


  • Nick Cave:
    Wrote The Proposition, which is astonishing because it avoided a number of the problems this movie has in spades.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 65% Top Critics: 55% Audience: 83%


  • Gary Oldman is barely in the film.  This is not a good thing.  Early on, the movie seems to simply forget that he’s supposed to be in it.
  • The movie has no sense of narrative pace or momentum.  It moves very fast in spots, then drops important plot threads for long, meandering diversions. 
  • Guy Pearce’s crooked cop is never given remotely enough room to grow into the amoral menace he should’ve become.  We only get to see him be really evil a couple of times, which is nothing against the larger number where he seems to be weak, confused, or incompetent. 
  • A sharp editor could probably make a much better movie out of this without filming any extra scenes by dumping the minister’s daughter tangent, most of LaBeouf’s part, and bumping Tom Hardy up to the lead role.  It’d be a nice and tight hour and a half, and it would go a hell of a lot faster than this meandering mess.
  • Easily the movie’s best scene involves Guy Pearce beating Shia LaBeouf into a sniveling, bloody mess.  It’s not enough to make up for the Transformers franchise, but it is a lot of fun to watch.
  • Hardy is initially even more difficult to understand than when he was wearing the Bane mask, but you get used to it.  And in a movie that’s got accents that run from okay to “seriously?”, he actually has something that sounds unique and consistent. 
  • The ending is just awful.
  • The violence, which should be this movie’s calling card, is distinctly underwhelming.  There are two different scenes where guys get tortured to death, and we barely get to see either.  People heal from their wounds ridiculously quickly and cleanly.  And the gunplay isn’t the least bit creative.

Bottom Line: In 2005, Nick Cave wrote and John Hillcoat directed a movie called The Proposition.  It had a phenomenal cast, lots of memorable lines and scenes, and didn’t flinch away from its more brutal violence.  In 2012, those same two guys made this Lawless movie, which also also has a phenomenal cast, but suffers terribly from a number of structural and stylistic problems and isn’t nearly as good as The Proposition

Of those, the biggest is the fact that Shia LaBeouf’s character is easily the least likable and least entertaining of the three brothers at the center of the story, but is also, for some reason, the main focus of the film.  LaBeouf isn’t terrible, and his Virginia accent could’ve been a lot worse, but his character is a self important dipshit hothead who should’ve been given third billing, at the absolute most. 

Tom Hardy gets the far more interesting role as the stoic, hard core hillbilly, a man of few mumbles at the head of a small time crime family.  A real, old fashioned grudge match between him and Guy Pearce’s crooked, murderous, citified cop would’ve been great fun to watch.  Instead, the movie wastes huge amounts of time on a completely unnecessary (and cliched as hell) romance between LaBeouf and a minister’s daughter, as well as a couple of incidental distractions like other bootleggers, a minor member of the gang, and Gary Oldman. 

Altogether, Lawless is a strange tweener kind of movie.  It’s clearly not dramatic and self important enough to hang with the real Oscar bait later in the year, but it’s also not nearly fun enough to be a summer romp.  It’s forgettable and overly long, which is too bad because somewhere in here there could’ve been a great movie. 

Suggested Alternate Viewing:

The Proposition (2005) – If you want to see grim men engage in a battle of wills and bullets, this delivers that much better than Lawless.

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Lawless:

Alex Cross – Tyler Perry Presents: Madea’s Revenge Fantasy.  

Oz the Great and Powerful Trailer – Disney, I know you’ve got a lot riding on this movie, but I’ve seen this trailer like six times already and it doesn’t even come out until next year.  Relax. 

Trouble With The Curve – If this movie features an empty chair as the villain I’ll be the first in line.

Taken 2 – Take harder.

Killing Them Softly – Great looking cast, but other than that it looks like a pretty regular hitman movie. 

The Master – Bog standard Oscar bait, but Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams can be fun. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

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