Lawless is a grim, gritty movie that succeeds in telling a story but generally fails in making the audience care. That’s probably because none of the characters are particularly interesting or fresh.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released August 29, 2012

Written by Nick Cave, based on the novel by Matt Bondurant

Directed by John Hillcoat

Starring Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Dane DeHaan, and Gary Oldman

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *


The Bondurants live in the Appalachian mountains, running a moonshine business during Prohibition. The leader of the clan is Forrest (Hardy), who survived the war and probably believes the popular legend that he’s invincible. He leads his two brothers in making  and selling 100% proof moonshine and running a family tavern. Howard (Clarke) is the big brother who drinks a little too much but is relentlessly loyal. Then there’s Jack (LaBeouf), the youngest of the three and known to be pretty much a pantywaist.

Jack is tired of being seen as a coward, especially when compared to his mighty brothers, so he hatches a plan to make a lot more money from the moonshine business by dealing with a big city criminal called Floyd Banner (Oldman). Unfortunately, there is also a new, sadistic lawman in town by the name of Charlie Rakes (Pearce). Rakes is OCD-tidy and clean, and he has no interest in upholding the law. Instead, he wants others to bow to his will. He’s unrepentantly and opaquely evil.

So while Jack leads the Bondurant business into extreme success, also building a massive and secret distillery, Rakes is out shutting down all the moonshiners in the area. Rakes’ goal is to take down the Bondurants, so he uses his sadistic torture to try to find the Bondurant distillery.

Added to these plots is the appearance of Maggie (Chastain), a beautiful red-head from Chicago who has a history but who wants to live in a simpler place and conveniently chooses to get a job at the Bondurant tavern. She and Forrest have an instant connection.

Meanwhile, Jack is courting a rigidly religious girl called Bertha (Wasikowska) and turning into an ostentatiously successful criminal. You know he’s going to make a stupid mistake that endangers his family business and the lives of those he loves.


The acting, for starters, in Lawless is all kinds of excellent. Pearce pulls of cruel and pure evil well, despite the depth of his evilness being totally incomprehensible. Hardy conveys tree-trunk solidity and a capacity for total brutality quite well, but his manner of speech and physical presence make him hard to really get inside of. Clarke is excellent, as always, giving the audience a little more access into an otherwise simple character who just wants to drink, work hard for his family, and chill out. He will follow Forrest to the depths of violence if Forrest wants him to.

Then there’s LaBeouf. I want him to stop being a fast-talker for once in one of his movies. He needs to get away from these roles; he’s got some serious problems if he can’t get a role that doesn’t ask him to be a wise-cracking, cocky dip nozzle. That said, this role does ask him to tone it down and Jack has something more of an arc that his characters typically have.

Chastain is steady, incredibly beautiful, and very damaged as Maggie. The character, like every character in this movie, is convenient and opaque, but Chastain still gives Maggie grace and tenderness, as well as toughness. Wasikowska does a lovely job as a cowed but curious young lady who finds joy in simple things and who responds beautifully to Jack’s courting.

Pearce’s Rakes is a massive, totally absurd caricature. This is not Pearce’s fault. Pearce hits the ball so far out of the park that it is probably in the Thunderdome. This guy has commitment. But the character– gosh it’s bad.

Which brings us to the writing. This is not a new story. Noble criminals are just minding their business until a selfishly corrupt lawman shows up and now we have a revenge story where the noble criminals are totally justified in being unbelievably brutal. The characters are all devices that allow the violence, grim outlook on the world, nihilism, and fashionably awful things to happen.

I didn’t like this movie and I doubt I would like the book. I don’t need to see a man’s neck sawed at. I don’t think anyone does. Needlessly brutal, pointlessly bleak, and irritatingly glorifying of violence and criminality without real consequence, Lawless is more than forgettable. It’s a waste of phenomenal talent. It’s only because of absurdly good acting that this movie is watchable.

Content warnings: Graphic and bloody violence, loads of profanity, a scene of nudity and sexuality

Writing: 1.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 3

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I saw Transformers 3 on its opening weekend. I’m pretty glad I got it out of the way. The preview tells the story:

The deets:

Released June 29, 2011

Written by Ehren Kruger

Directed by Michael Bay

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Frances McDormand, John Turturro (wasted again), and Tyrese Gibson (along with most of the population of the world)

*     *     *     *

I’ll say it once, now, and never speak of it again. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley acted better than Megan Fox, but her mouth seems so alien-large that it was very distracting.

On with my review.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is of such significantly better quality than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen that you kind of wish you could erase the knowledge of #2 from your brain. The story is strangely cohesive; the action is at least 50% motivated by the story and characters; the emotional impact is significantly increased; and the acting, while still over the top, is motivated by the stratospherically high stakes and is not bad. It helps that Rosie, playing the part of Carly, has a naturalness to her acting that is far less distracting than Megan Fox’s odd opacity.


The story of this film melds as well as it can into real history. It turns out that part of the moon mission was to investigate a crash landing that some alien ship made onto the moon. Footage and sound files of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon are spliced in rather deftly, along with other historical footage. During that mission, the US took possession of some item that was of extreme importance to the civil war being waged on the transformers’ planet of Cybertron.

So the Decepticons and Autobots are once again on a race to gain possession of a certain item, but now they must also try to get the item’s creator to help them. This creator is called Sentinel Prime and he is an Autobot. He is also voiced by Leonard freaking Nimoy.

And that’s all the story I can tell you, because anything else would be spoilers.


Part of why Dark of the Moon is so much more effective than #2 is that it starts right. After the back story is laid out, we start back with Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) and his desperate attempts to get a job. The pleasant relationship between him and Carly is not forced, but is quite nice actually. Sam is peeved that after helping to save the world TWICE, he doesn’t seem to have any abilities that an employer would care to look at.

Sam needs to be needed, and this need is a nice motivator for how uncorked he becomes as the movie goes along. You actually understand why he’s so intense and keyed up.

Then there’s Patrick Dempsey, who plays charming and slimy and does a nice job of it. His villain role is a little forgotten in the motivation department, because really, (slight spoiler alert) what human would actually want machines to take over his world? Hasn’t he seen The Matrix or Terminator?

The action is loud, long and big. Some of it is remarkably beautiful. The snake/tentacled thing with the building, Optimus wading into battle, Bumblebee saving some important folks– these are excellent bits. The BASE jumpers are also a nice touch- and it’s nice to know that most of that footage is of real BASE jumpers doing a real jump.

Yes, I still had a slight headache coming out of this film. Yes, it’s still quite silly, really, if you think about the premise for longer than a minute or two. Yes, Shia LaBeouf ought to go for some indie fare for a couple of years. And very yes, John Turturro is so thoroughly wasted in these films.

However, all in all, this film is semi-solid. It doesn’t redeem #2 per se, but it does show that Michael Bay can have a very deft touch when he tries (I’m looking at YOU Bad Boys).

Content warnings: Lots of Transformer violence, explosions, hairy situations. Pretty intense stuff. Some harsh language.

Writing: 3         Acting: 3.5          Overall: 3

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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