I think it’s always a good idea to change things up and bit and to try something new, hence the birth of ‘A Brief Discussion’. Nick of The Cinematic Katzenjammer and myself partnered up to discuss the film Lawless, the new gangster film about three bootlegging brothers in Franklin County, Virginia during Prohibition in the 1920s. Below you’ll find our spoiler-free discussion of the film. Take note that my comments are in blue and Nick’s comments are in red.
N. First off, what are your initial thoughts of Lawless?
J. I liked the movie, but I didn’t love it. I thought the film’s setting was good, and I thought most of the acting was good, but I had a few issues with certain characters and some of the story-line.
N. So did I. I really liked most of the characters but there were some ‘stretches’ in the realism that I found really out of place.
I love the setting and the look of the film, but it’s flaws were things that really stood out.
J. I thought Guy Pearce and Tom Hardy were great! Especially Pearce.
N. Guy Pearce is so swarmy and evil. He’s such a good villain. Really liked him in it too. Hardy is great, as always. I was really disappointed at the lack of Gary Oldman though.
J. I was also disappointed that Gary Oldman didn’t play a bigger part. After seeing him as Jim Gordon so much over the past years, or at least its felt that way, I enjoyed seeing him in what I thought to be a villain, but I was left wanting so much more him.
N. He was only in like three scenes. His introduction teases us that he’ll play a huge role. Then he just vanishes.
J. Exactly! He was used more as a plot device for Shia’s Jack. Speaking of which, I liked Shia acting in this more than in anything else I can remember.
N. I do too. I think it’s easily one of his best performances. As the star, the focus is almost entirely on him and yet he is able to stand up to the talents of Hardy, Pearce, and Oldman. On our podcast I mentioned that this was his make or break film, and I think it certainly did more for him than anything else.
J. For the most part I agree; I think he still is easily overshadowed by the better actors, but like you said I don’t think he did his career anything but good.
N. He had a few moments that were shockingly good. After a certain character’s death, his response is hard to watch. And towards the end, when he lets his ‘gangster flag’ fly, he shows signs he could really be a badass.
J. I agree on all accounts. One thing that I couldn’t get out of my head was every time Tom Hardy would grunt or huff or talk in his muffled voice I had visions of Bane.
N. Really? I didn’t think so at all. I did think that when he’d lower his voice even more that he sounded like Bane. And you could certainly tell some of the weight he gained for Bane had faded off a bit. He had a little stomach underneath his sweater and fedora.
J. Yeah, it was only when it was softer or lower, but it was there. I thought he looked a little slimmer too, but he’s such and imposing figure that unless he really slims down it’s difficult to see a whole lot of difference.
N. True. Now most of the conversation around the film is the known-name stars. I thought a lot of the smaller characters really stood out, especially Cricket (Dane DeHaan) and Howard (Jason Clarke). The film is really packed to the brim with talent.
J. Cricket is definitely an under appreciated character. I thought Dane DeHaan really stood out in his scenes and was less overshadowed than Shia.
N. Have you seen Chronicle? He’s having one hell of a year.
J. Jason Clarke is such a good character actor. I’ve watched him on a number of TV shows and have always thought he was good. And yes, I did see Chronicle and thought he was one of the reasons that I thought the movie was fairly enjoyable.
J. Oh, and let’s not forget the gorgeous Jessica Chastain. It’s been awhile since I’ve had an actress that I wanted to see anything she was in. Chastain and Emma Stone are both becoming that type of actress as far as I’m concerned.
N. And she’s naked!
J. YES SHE IS!!!
N. Moving on to the story, what did you think of the bulk of the plot? Anti-heroes running the town, then the bad guy from the city comes in wrecks havoc. We’ve seen it tons of times before.
J. We have, but I like the “hillbilly” aspect of this. My problems were more geared towards how quickly the sheriff went from buying from the brothers too threatening them all because of one guy?
N. Yeah. Small town folk are apparently easily manipulated by Guy Pearce.
From the trailers, I was assuming that Pearce was coming to town to stop Gary Oldman’s character, not the Bondurant brothers.
J. Right, I think if Gary Oldman’s Floyd was behind Charlie Rakes being there, then it would lend more believability.
N. Exactly. I don’t see why one big time city “special detective” would come in to clean up a bunch of moonshiners.
J. Even if he was dirty and planned to just rustle them up to get paid, he was one guy, all alone.
N. Yeah. He had no allies yet was able to “lock down” an entire town.
J. The other problem I had was how quickly all the other bootleggers fell in line behind Rakes.
N. I think a part of that is because they wanted to focus entirely on the Bondurants and not the entire county. But yes, they could have embellished a bit more.
N. My biggest complaint of the story was the realism factor. I know it’s based off a true story (I think the source material was actually written by a real Bondurant), but there were so many moments I almost laughed at because of how unbelievable it was.
J. Yes, the book was written by Matt Bondurant, Jack’s grandson, hence the reason I think Jack got so much of the focus. It’s based off his book, The Wettest County in the World. I believe you mentioned this previously in one of our podcasts, but that’s such a cooler title than Lawless.
N. It certainly is. But back to that realism factor. Did that bug you? There’s only so much one person can take before they die.
J. I think there’s a certain level of disbelief we should expect to have with movies, and it becomes less when films are “based on a true story”. Having said that, yes it became a little unbelievable how much punishment was dealt out without the character dying (similar to I Saw the Devil).
N. Back to before, one aspect I really liked (that you touched upon) was the more hillbilly approach to that era. Most gangster movies set in the 20s are all set in New York or Chicago, never the small towns on the outskirts. I do wish they delved a little more into the actual moon-shining. A little history lesson would be cool, and seeing them all actually working on it would have shown a bit. Minus the dirty work, I don’t remember seeing Hardy doing anything else.
J. Exactly, and taking Pearce’s Charlie Rakes out of 20s Chicago and putting him in hillbilly Franklin County, VA was nice. And yeah, I was intrigued by the scenes that were more focused on the moonshine; probably a reason I liked Cricket so much since he was in just about all of those scenes.
N. Yeah. The film had a gorgeously bleak setting and good characters, but I wish there was more detail in the story. In the moonshining aspect, as well as the town and everything.
J. Oh yeah, and what was the point of Shia’s Jack courting the preacher’s daugther (played by Mia Wasikowska)? Does every movie need a love story, I mean c’mon! I didn’t hate her, I just didn’t see the need to have her there.
N. Yeah, those parts I didn’t really care for. I thought they made Shia look too young as well. It made him look too soft.
J. Yeah, and I thought he actually looked older as the film moved along. They really could have done without her. He was hardened by what was going around him.
N. Exactly. And by the film’s end, after everything he’s been through, I don’t see how she’d be in the picture.
N. It’s also worth mentioning that John Hillcoat directed this movie, who also did The Road and The Proposition (another Pearce flick). He certainly has a flair for the dark and gritty. I think the visuals of the film were one of the best parts.
J. Absolutely! He definitely uses what he knows.
N. Would you recommend seeing the film in theaters?
J. When you consider what else is out there, I think this and Premium Rush are the two things worth seeing.
N. I’d recommend it too. Right now there’s kind of a drought in movies to actually see in theaters that are actually worth it. While it’s a flawed film, it’s definitely worth seeing.
J. For the performances alone.
N. And the visual ‘grit’ Hillcoat’s come to be known for.
J. Although he’s not ‘seen’ really in The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy is a name that people really need to familiarize themselves with because he’s definitely one of the best actors working right now.
N. He is. And with Lawless, I’m happy to say that Shia’s here to stay. He shows more promise than ever here and I’m really excited to see where he takes his career.
J. NO BIG BUDGET FILMS SHIA!!!!
N. To wrap up, what you would give the film on your new and fancy Canoli System?
N. Out of 10, I give it a 7.6
To close out my thoughts on Lawless, I’ll say that the movie is dark, gritty and violent and carried by solid acting, top to bottom; however, don’t be fooled into believing Gary Oldman is anything more than a cameo appearance. In the end Lawless won’t make anyone top 10 list, but it’s entertaining enough and worth the price of admission.