Lawless (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Lawless</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, April 2013) As far as period crime-dramas go, Lawless offers a quasi-charming throwback to Prohibition-era booze bootleggers.  Adapted from a docu-fictive novel written by descendants of the bootleggers (Matt Bondurant’s The Wettest Country in the World) Lawless obviously takes the side of the hero bootleggers as they face off against the real criminals and the corrupt self-righteous representatives of the law.  This is a romanced view of criminal activity, and while Lawless attempts something more than the usual crime drama, it doesn’t have the heft or scope required to produce a memorable result.  Still, what’s on-screen isn’t too bad, especially when Lawless takes a few moments to indulge in its rural-Virginia setting.  It helps that the cast is so impressive: between brother-outlaws played by Tom Hardy and Shia Labeouf, an extended cameo by Gary Oldman, an evil turn from Guy Pearce and a love interest played by Jessica Chastain, Lawless has enough star-power to keep anyone interested.  (Hardy’s portrayal of an almost-comically-gruff character is a standout, as is Pearce’s repellent antagonist.) Still, the film’s biggest asset is in its somewhat-sympathetic portrait of moonshine production.  Our outlaw heroes aren’t sadistic or repellant: they use the minimal possible amount of violence as a tool to keep things tidy in the pursuit of an extra buck.  Occasional moments of significant violence are almost expected for the genre, while lengthier lulls in the pacing sap away some of the film’s energy on the way to attempt a more ambitious kind of film. Lawless ends up falling between two chairs, never completely happy to stick to an entertaining crime drama, while never having quite what it takes to become a criminal epic for the ages.  Lawless will have to settle for a good-enough film, probably more disposable than the filmmakers intended (what film isn’t?) but still reasonably entertaining in its own right.

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