Monday, September 23, 2019

MOVIE REVIEWS: LAWLESS

August 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s hard to remember a movie that received such divergent reviews as Australian director John Hillcoat’s Lawless, which opens today (Wednesday). That’s how it was at Cannes, when it was screened in competition last May, drawing boos and applause during the closing credits. The film, adapted by rock musician Nick Cave and starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, and Guy Pearce, tells the purportedly true story of the Bondurant brothers, who ran a moonshine operation in Virginia during Prohibition and were forced to take on Chicago gangsters on the one hand and corrupt police and feds on the other in order to keep their operation going. “Hillcoat and Cave give us more than an action story. They create a world,” writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. “The filmmakers detail a long-gone conflict from a long-lost era and end up showing how the dreams and longings that motivate Americans never really change.” Stephen Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer calls it “grand but intimate” that puts “an elegiac sheen” on the business of producing moonshine whiskey in the Virginia of the Prohibition era. It’s “a story of entrepreneurship, of family, of fighting for one’s rights — the right to make white lightning, and money. It’s as American as apple pie,” he writes. (Ironically the writer, director and many of the stars are either British or Australian.) Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News notes that the film is based on a book by University of Texas at Dallas assistant professor Matt Bondurant about his forebears. However, he remarks, “Lawless turns the literary tone of its source novel into something faster, leaner and more populist.” On the other hand, A.O. Scott in the New York Times, while remarking that at times the film is as much fun as “an episode of Hee Haw,” concludes: “There are too many action-movie cliches without enough dramatic purpose, and interesting themes and anecdotes are scattered around without being fully explored. This is weak and cloudy moonshine: it doesn’t burn or intoxicate.” As for the numerous scenes of violence, some virtually sadistic, Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times comments that the film “grows monotonous as the characters’ interactions turn increasingly violent, one horrific act spurring another until the screen is awash in muted blood. Mayhem never tasted more like medicine.” Lou Lumenick in the New York Post writes it off as a “snoozer” that “is a lot closer to The Dukes of Hazzard than Boardwalk Empire.” Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News observes that the movie is being released after the summer’s menu of “brainless popcorn fare” and the fall’s “high-minded Oscar bait.” Lawless, then, could be considered “your segue between seasons. The gratuitous nudity and bloody shootouts suggest summer; the pedigreed cast and historical subject matter are more commonly found in fall.”