Lawless

Note: Today we have a special guest recommendation! Jesse has been recommending terrible (or just uninteresting) movies lately and I felt like watching something different. Zaki just happened to be excited about a movie one day so I decided to add a rule allowing me to take one-off recommendations from people other than Jesse. Maybe that will get Jesse to start choosing better movies.

What Zaki said (paraphrased):

I watched a movie that I think you should review – Lawless. I thought it was great the whole way through, right up until the end. It could have been a fantastic movie; good characters and story – if only the end wasn’t such a disappointment. Even so, you should watch it – you’ll enjoy most of it.

Mike’s verdict:

I don’t feel anywhere close to the level of disappointment that Zaki expressed over the end of this film – but I completely understand what it is he disliked.

Lawless is an interesting premise for a movie and it has a few different levels. As the opening credits were scrolling along, my initial thought was, ‘Oh, no, I have to watch a Western!” Thankfully, this movie isn’t a Western at all – it just really looks like one. On the surface Lawless is about moonshiners trying to do their thing during prohibition. On another level, Lawless tries to explore how legends build and are maintained. In this case, the legend is the seeming invincibility of three particular moonshining brothers. The final level is an attempt at exploring our definitions of good and bad. The movie definitely tries at all these levels, enough to see them, but it doesn’t really pull them off.

Rather than question prohibition itself, or highlight the effects on the average person, this film tells a story from the point of view of the little-guy moonshiner working in a bigger system. There are no good guys here, only varying levels of bad guys. That’s been done before, and generally I don’t like it, but in this case there are some pretty clear lines between the bad guys that don’t want to hurt people and the bad guys that seem to want to hurt everyone. It makes the story feel like good vs. bad, when in fact it really isn’t.

The story itself is fairly engaging. There are some little things that seem forced – like everything about Jessica Chastain‘s character, and I found the ‘invincible’ legend to be tedious. But over all, it’s an entertaining film.

Other than Chastain, the rest of the cast feels realistic. Tom Hardy‘s subdue-ness (?) built a nice tension and Shia LaBeouf‘s punched face was a good release for it. Guy Pearce plays a bad guy that you will instantly hate and I did eventually stop seeing Alice in Mia Wasikowska.

Unfortunately, the end is definitely not satisfying. Given the level of violence and the way the story was building – especially with the ‘invincible’ angle – you’ll be anticipating an ending that just doesn’t happen. That’s certainly why Zaki was disappointed. But I think most would agree that the ending you do get is fairly predictable in hindsight. The story sets it up perfectly, you just don’t see it coming because you don’t want to.

Realistically, Lawless doesn’t really stand out for me. It wasn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t awful either, which is actually kind of an accomplishment given the use of Shia LaBeouf.

5/10

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