Seven minutes into watching Lawless, I knew how I’d feel about it by the end. I could see my final thoughts bearing down on me like the subway train light did to Neo in The Matrix. The story would get boring halfway through. Tom Hardy would be awesome, but underutilized. And Shia Labeouf would be less annoying, but still forced down our throats. Suffice to say, I hate being right. Lawless suffers from one of the big no-nos a film can have. You can make a good movie or even a terrible one. However, you never make it be FORGETTABLE. Be honest and tell me you didn’t say to yourself when seeing the headline for this review “Oh yeah, Shia LaBeouf did do a gangster film with Tom Hardy.” Those of you that didn’t probably never heard of the film at all.
Why is Lawless so FORGETTABLE? Well, from the beginning, it leads us to believe we’ll be learning a lot about the interesting art of bootlegging OR that we’ll witness an epic confrontation between the crooked law and an infamous family. However, it speeds past the bootlegging information in about thirty seconds while drawing out this epic confrontation FOR…EV…ER! The pacing of Lawless is the only crime I witnessed. Whenever it looks like you’re about to get into the wheelhouse of the film, it delays you with a contrived double love story or just plain boring build up. It hides the good moments from us while sticking us with moments we don’t care about. We see a man get his feet washed in church while drunk off of moonshine for three minutes. But there’s a castration…off camera. Gangster films aren’t supposed to hide the brutal moments from you. Those moments make it memorable. You remember the chainsaw scene in Scarface. You remember the horse head in The Godfather. The baseball bats in Casino. Lawless drowns us in snail like pacing between its few memorable moments, and when we get there, it doesn’t allow us to fully see them.
It is a real shame this film is so lifeless because there truly is another terrific performance by Tom Hardy here. The man is poised to be the next great Hollywood star, yet people will have missed probably half of the amazing performances he’s done. Like Bronson, or The Take or RocknRolla or this. The only person in Lawless that holds his own with him in the acting department is Guy Pearce. Pearce plays slithery lawman Charles Rakes in a way only a certain few could pull off. The brief…and I mean brief…badass scenes he and Hardy have together shakes you out of the slumber caused by the film’s slow pacing. It is also good to see crazed Gary Oldman again. His run as Jim Gordan has caused people to forget how awesomely nuts he can be. But those guys collectively play second fiddle to the elephant in the room, Shia Labeouf. Does Shia annoy you in this? Yes. Does Shia whine in this? Yes. Does Shia overact to cover his inability to act in this. Yes. However, compared to his previous work in a robotic trilogy that will remain nameless, it isn’t unbearable. He would have been better as a costar in Lawless instead of the star. I’d rather follow Tom Hardy’s more interesting Forrest than be force-fed Shia’s cliched Jack.
If you want to see a compelling true story about prohibition, watch Boardwalk Empire. If you want to see an actually decent Shia LaBeouf performance, watch Disturbia. If you don’t have HBO, don’t own Disturbia, but are at least having trouble sleeping, watch Lawless. In the lexicon of gangster films, it falls short enough for me to name ten others better than it off the top of my head. Godfather 1, Godfather 2, Goodfellas, Casino, Miller’s Crossing, The Untouchables, Sexy Beast, The Departed, Carlito’s Way, Scarface. See? Compared to any of those Lawless is easily FORGETTABLE. Take some Nodoz…watch it…try to remember you saw it after…then tell me I’m wrong.