Set during the prohibition era in America, we follow three bootlegging brothers who violently defend their right to remain independent against crooked lawmen looking for a cut of the business. Every member of the cast delivers a solid performance here; but Hardy, LaBeouf and Clarke as the Bondurant brothers and Guy Pearce as Rakes are the ones running this film. All four of these actors keep up with each other and maintain a high standard throughout. The detailed performances given by the two love interests (Chastain and Wasikowska) are ultimately sidelined and not of great importance to the film and Gary Oldman’s role is little more than an extended cameo, which was disappointing to see. Still, I can’t fault anyone in this film and it’s always nice to see the minor characters being as interesting as our leads.
Lawless does paint good and evil with some broad brushstrokes; despite the violence that the brothers commit, there is no doubt that we are meant to side with them and against the inhuman Rakes. It’s a shame that Pearce’s character – whilst played very well – is an out and out psychopath. We would still root for the brothers if a little more criticism was aimed at them due to the likeability and humour that Hardy and LaBeouf bring, and if the film eased back on painting the lawman so darkly we could have had a more complex portrayal of the opposing side, and by extension the entire violent situation. Or just leave the film wide open so that we aren’t forced to criticise anybody by the movie’s perspective, but instead form our own opinions. Lawless does function well for what it is trying to do, early into the film you recognise the bias and run with it, but it is a shame that it couldn’t have been a little braver here.
Slowly building in intensity, Lawless takes it’s time over a simple story but we are never allowed to feel bored. We are always aware that a sudden burst of violence could be just around the corner, or then again maybe it will be an unexpected laugh because the humour is fairly constant and is well handled. The violence is brutal and sounds painful, the little metallic ting left over by Hardy’s knuckle dusters adds a particularly visceral edge, but this is not the unnecessarily blood drenched film that some reviewers are describing it as. It spurts when it needs to but the blood is used intelligently and with restraint, it certainly doesn’t reduce the film’s power or credibility. Unfortunately Lawless does seem to be receiving many surprisingly negative reviews, which is rather unfair. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but is worthy of your attention and is one of the better films to have come out this year.