Recently I was able to rent Lawless and watch it. I had been dying to see this movie since I saw the first trailer for it. It was right up my alley as a semi-meathead: shoot ‘em up, good guys vs. bad guys, prohibition era, gangsters and so on.
The film was enjoyable, but a bit stale and familiar. Here is the gist: During the prohibition, 3 brothers became bootleggers. Then the law tries to shut them down, but not in politically correct ways. Then they pound their chest and fight.
Usually with these types of movies there should be at least one character that you can fully get behind and root for. I mean, that is the point, right? To have an emotional connection to at least one person? I’m assuming that character was supposed to be Shia LeBeouf, along with his brothers and the women in their lives. The strange thing about this movie, though, is that I didn’t really find any character to connect with strongly except perhaps Cricket, the friend of Labeouf’s character. Rather than a good guys vs. bad guys type of generalization, it was bad guys vs. bad guys, but we are supposed to root for the lesser of the bad guys who seem to have good hearts, but would still rather put themselves and their loved ones in danger to protect their own skins. I understand that this may be the way it actually was (in the real life events), but since when did Hollywood care about that? I’m okay with an anti-hero, but not even that is to be found, in my opinion.
Each character in the film is worthy of compassion obviously, and we aren’t told a whole lot of back-story on anyone except for the three main brothers (played by LeBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke). The film’s problem is that it doesn’t explain the complexities of the time, the reality of “feast or famine”. Alcohol, especially the homemade kind, is incredibly strong and toxic. The movement of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (and other “fundamentalist” calls for prohibition) was partly because of advances in alcohol production that made alcohol percentages suddenly skyrocket in drinks (distillation of grain). Men couldn’t handle it. Alcohol was already a social norm (and probably for good reason originally, considering dangers with unclean water), but in the middle of the night a thief switched it with a more deadly poison. And a pervasive culture grew (and was already well established) that basically said “real men” drank alcohol. And so they did, to be a “real man.” But at the expense of being “real men.” they let other things slide, such as a man’s duty to his family. In a culture that still felt that the man should be the bread-winner and women should stay home, there was no bread-winning going on for those who became addicted to the drink. But the movie doesn’t show this side of the equation, the harm that alcohol consumption caused.
On the other side of that equation, though, are the people who were struggling just to stay alive and feed their family. The country was, after all, in a Great Depression. In an area where work was scarce and people craved alcohol, one might find him or herself backed into a corner and deciding that, for the good of their family, they’ll produce and distribute illegal alcohol. If I could have only seen some of this real struggle in the film, I may have been more moved.
The book that this movie is based off of may cover these background issues more. The movie viewer, however, is just expected to not notice or care. But when we talk about murder, which is the taking of a life that God created, then I need to understand why it was unavoidable. I don’t need to know that for the characters who are supposed to be “bad” because, well, they’re bad. But the “better” characters have some explaining to do!
This film is based off of the book The Wettest County in the World, a historical novel written by Matt Bondurant, a grandson of one of the main characters.
Jack Bondurant (Shia LeBeouf)
This is the sensitive brother of the rough trio. In a scene depicting Jack as a youngster, he is supposed to shoot a pig at their farm, but he can’t do it. This follows him into adulthood, this “weakness” of not being able to feel great about killing things. We are never really told why. There is no basis given for why he is nicer. Perhaps he got the better genes (or worse, depending on your notion of what humanity actually is). What is it that he values about life? Not sure. Perhaps his life experiences allowed him to be “softer” than his brothers. Because of the influence of his brothers, you can see that he really has a desire to be like them, to “earn his keep” in the crime game, so to speak.
Redeeming quality: Well, he has a nice smile! But seriously, his relationship with Cricket does speak to this brother’s character. Cricket is “slow” for some reason, and is one of those sweet individuals who most people would either ignore or ridicule. Even yours truly was once a complete jerk like that. But Jack is his best friend, and you can tell it’s a loving brotherly relationship. Perhaps LeBeouf’s character was, overall, a “victim of circumstance.” Our environments are not completely determinative, but they can be good indicators of our future.
Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy)
I really like seeing Tom Hardy show up. And in this movie, it was always good seeing him on screen because you usually knew that something graphic was about to go down! But the character is tragic for a few reasons. He doesn’t seem to have many thoughts other than what an ape might have on a regular day (“Me hungry. Me eat food now. Me shoot person now.”). His hard work is helping to provide for his family, but the character is basically just Billy Bob Thornton from Sling Blade. And this is a guy who has bought into his own legend (of immortality) and has had his ego fed for far too long by said legend. After being attacked by two men and a knife, he ends up at the hospital. He doesn’t know how, but rumor spreads that he walked there himself, and he believes it. In actuality, Maggie has taken him. When he is about to walk into a death trap full of confidence, he relates this to her (with the assumption that he can’t be killed). She replies, “Isn’t that like you to believe your own d@mn legend?”
Redeeming quality: He dances a jig at the end!
Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke)
Similar story to Forrest, but less fanfare from the locals. He is also believed to be immortal. This is the brother who enjoys their product more than the others. Not much else to say about him. Just another meathead with a gun.
Redeeming quality: Loyal to his family (and usually dependable), as are the other brothers.
Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce)
I really, really … really enjoyed watching Guy Pearce in this movie. Not only is he an amazing actor, but I think he had the most interesting character. He had the funniest lines by far, and was probably the one unique and original element in the movie (not the bad cop character itself, but Pearce’s portrayal and idiosyncracies). Now, he was a very crooked, twisted, sadistic, insane, and evil cop. But other than that he was a pretty good guy! When the local sheriff is explaining the Bondurant brothers legend of immortality to him, his answer is priceless: “Do you mean immortal? *laugh* You f#%$ing hicks are a sideshow onto yourselves! *continued laughter* Sheriff, do you have any idea what a Thompson submachine gun does to an immortal?”
Redeeming quality: A sense of humor and an affinity for bow ties.
Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain)
Former dancer in Chicago who tries to escape that life. For some reason she falls for the near-mute, emotionless zombie Forrest. Maybe she saw something in him that the movie viewer does not get to see. Chastain gives an awesome performance, though!
Redeeming quality: She does attempt to be a voice of reason and wisdom, a pillar of tough love. She seems to have an inside scoop on what happens when someone is full of testosterone, feeling invincible, and wielding a gun.
Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman)
Just wanted to say that I love Gary Oldman, and he makes acting not look like acting. I wish he was used more in this movie, but his character is secondary. He is a gangster, but one of them there reasonable ones that doesn’t want a blood bath on his hands (he says this perhaps 30 minutes after a scene where he is driven into a town and starts shooting).
Redeeming quality: Floyd Banner’s redeeming quality is that he is played by Gary Oldman.
Tizwell Minnix (Alex Van)
Not a major character, but is the only self-identified Christian in the movie. He is a preacher, actually. What does he think about the violence in the town? Not sure, it isn’t mentioned much other than when his daughter relays to Jack that he isn’t a huge fan of thugs. There is no indication that he tries to help much in the community, and the dress of his group seems to imply a separatist sect of Christianity. I wonder if, in his preaching, he ever came across passages like, say … Isaiah 1:17, or James 1:22-27. But it’s really hard to actually fault the guy when I know so little about him.
Redeeming Quality: Beard.
3.5/5: thoroughly enjoyable, ethically disastrous. Speaks well to an individualistic culture. But, hey, if this is how it was, than that’s how it was. The movie could have done better with making me feel for the characters. I know, I know, in order to do what I have asked the movie probably would have needed to be a trilogy, which I am okay with (hey, if I’m going to waste time on something, I want to feel like it was worth it afterward!). Perhaps it is just so close to the actual human condition that it makes me uncomfortable. Why do we need a true relationship with Christ? Welcome to Exhibit A.
p.s. The screenplay was written by Nick Cave. He also contributed to the soundtrack, and hearing his eerie vocals did greatly compliment the mood and atmosphere of the film.
Parents beware: graphic violence, colorful language, brief nudity/sexuality. The strange thing is that many Christians will only be disturbed by the sexuality, rather than the wanton destruction of life. Interesting, eh?