Wow. It must be a stretch for Shia LaBeouf to play a dumbass kid who gets in way over his head, right? Lawless stars him as one of three brothers who run a moonshining trade in rural Virgina during Prohibition, and it was the last mainstream film he’s been associated with. Sure, he’s in a Lars Von Trier movie that’s coming out soon, but I doubt that’s gonna be in your local multiplex if you see what I’m getting at. Despite his toxic public persona, he has been able to prove himself as an actor on a few occasions, but it’s gone far past the point where anyone want to give him the benefit of the doubt anymore. All that said; is Lawless another example of him showing off his acting chops, or is it yet another chance for him to make a complete ass of himself? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to KEEP ON READING!!!
The movie begins with a kid being egged on to shoot a pig in the face. Unable to do it in a timely manner, one of the other kids takes out his pistol and just shoots it in the face. Okay… and the point of that was what? It cuts immediately after that to when the kids are adults, and we start to get an earful of The Beef’s narration. Whatever, Mr. “I’m not famous anymore” informs us that him and his brothers are highlanders or something, and can’t die.
To sum up; Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke are the three Bondurant brothers (Jack, Forrest, and Howard) who are the best moonshiners in Franklin County, which may not be a huge market in terms of business, but they sell quite a lot and are the local heroes in their neck of the woods. At this point in the film, we’re watching them drive around in their Jalopy (great fucking word) delivering moonshine to the local sheriff, some old ladies, and a speakeasy in a nearby town. Inside said speakeasy is a lot of black people getting drunk and messing with a dead body.
While the two older brothers are making the deal, little Shia is looking at the madness through a small window, and proceeds to get mugged by some hillbilly with a butter knife. Forrest and Howard come back in the nick of time, and tells the bum to piss off. The bum won’t take the hint, so Bane over here starts philosophizing at the clueless fucker (seriously), and when the guy asks for clarification he gets a fist to the face.
The movie then cuts to a scene of the boys selling their stuff at a barn party, but this scene is only there to establish that the littlest brother has moon eyes for the local church girl. He’s not the only one with their eyes on someone, because the next day, a super-hot city lady (named Maggie) comes by looking for Forrest who’s apparently there to work at the family diner. Apparently they have a diner as well as a booming moonshine business. I guess they need some way to launder the money, and car washes haven’t been invented yet. Forrest is dubious about her, but decides to give her the job.
We cut from there to sometime later where LaBeouf is loading up a truck with product when some random gangsters roll right down Main Street, stop the car, and then one of them gets out to shoot ANOTHER car that soon appears.
LaBeouf sees the whole thing and gets a little wink from the gangster. The gangster continues prove his utter manliness by not even bothering to get back in his car before the other gangster begins driving.
This showcase of violence and disaffected swagger seems to have the desired effect on LaBeouf because he immediately starts collecting the shell casings and then run to his dumbass friend to gossip about how awesome that was.
Okay, so we got a decent story going here. We’ve established that Forrest and Howard (the older brothers) are smooth, tough, and epitomize that sort of small town badass who can do anything but never lets it get to their head. Shia on the other hand as the family runt is still trying to become that kind of man, but he’s too young to know the difference between tough guy and bad guy , hence his excitement over seeing the gangster shoot some mother fuckers. I can go with that, and if you’re gonna cast anyone to be a sniveling yet earnest wannabe tough guy who will probably get taught a few tough lessons, then Shia LaBeouf is your man.
After a small scene in the diner to establish that Maggie is after Tom Hardy’s six shooter (wink! wink!), we get introduced to some Virginia government tough guys who want to push Forrest around, one of which seems particularly interested in getting into a dick measuring contest with our giant redneck hero.
Is the movie fucking serious right now? The answer is no. You see, this movie is actually an attempt at making a high end version of a relatively small sub-genre of exploitation films known as hick-sploitation. I haven’t seen much from this genre (does Motel Hell count?) so I can’t say how true it sticks to that, but it’s clear that making Guy Pearce look like a grown up Alfalfa who went to the dark side is supposed to be ridiculous and laughable. Mr. Pearce is actually spot on as Special Deputy Charley Rakes, coming off as a petty creep. This is the kind of guy who’s probably not all that hard to take care of, but you still walk on eggshells around him because otherwise he’ll fucking snap and cause as much damage as possible before you can finish him off. Forrest can see right through this crazy fucker and tells the commonwealth attorney (who you know is a bad guy because he won’t get out of the fucking car) that he’s not about to comply and that his little lackey better not show up in town again.
The attorney isn’t too pleased with Forrest’s attitude, but you can tell that Rakes is ready for some fun. Later that night, all the moonshiner’s in the county gather around a hobo fire to discuss what to do about the government trying to take a cut of their business. The others want to roll over and suck the guy’s balls, but Forrest ain’t having any of that shit. So that’s the setup. Forrest isn’t going to bow down to the corrupt politicians and is gonna stand up to whatever they can toss at him, dragging the rest of his family into the mess along with him. Good premise for a bad ass gun slinging western, but the problem is that the movie isn’t really about that. We cut back to Shia Laebouf (who’s the real focus of this film) cutting out newspaper clippings of his new hero.
He’s itching for a fight just as much as Forrest is, but he doesn’t have the brains to know how to win, or even why he should be fighting. He offers up his services to the cause, but his other brother (Howard) still treats him like the adolescent twerp that he is.
Feeling dejected, he runs off to the church to try and hit on the girl he likes, with about as much success as you’d expect.
His streak of bad luck continues when he’s caught red handed by the special agent while making booze at his friend’s house. Rakes messes with him for a bit, and even smacks him across the face with the barrel of his shotgun a few times. Thoroughly humiliated, he runs back to his house, promising that he’s gonna get his brother’s to beat him up.
Shia goes back to the diner with his tail between his legs, and Forrest isn’t too happy about what happened. This movie is putting me in a strange position when it comes to Shia’s character. On the one hand, he’s probably the most dynamic character in this, in that he’s the one who’s changing over the course of the film. He’s also sympathetic because of how much crap gets heaped on him, and how he’s clearly being influenced by the wrong people. On the other hand, he’s still a pretty unpleasant character to be around, and while character’s like Rakes and Forrest are very archetypal, they’re much more fun to be around. Watching this movie ends up feeling like you’re in school. Sure, you know the boring stuff is going to be much more fulfilling and intellectually stimulating, but fuck all that! Let’s just go to recess! I hear there’s going to be a huge fight!
So after tossing some unruly drunks out on their asses for getting fresh with Maggie, he gets patched up by her and sees her on her way home. Unfortunately, the two numskulls surprise him and slice his throat open. Maggie end up coming back for… some reason, and the two guys jump her and rape her. Ugh…
I don’t care if it actually happened (this is supposedly based on a true story) and I don’t care if it becomes a vital plot point later on. If you put rape in your movie, it’s going to lose points. All isn’t lost however, because Forrest is such an untouchable bad ass that he holds his fucking neck closed and walks all the way to the hospital. We cut to the next day where Forrest is recouping and his brothers come round to visit him.
While the unkillable bad ass is temporarily out of commission, Shia wants to go ahead and make a big deal with some gangster’s outside the county who are willing to buy their moonshine for a crazy high price. I don’t know how Shia found out about these guys, and if it was explained in the movie then I missed it. Howard is against it because he thinks Shia is full of shit (not an unreasonable position), so Shia steals the car and the moonshine, and runs off with his friend from earlier (Cricket) to make the deal. Shenanigans ensure on their way to the deal, and they almost get themselves killed by a bunch of real life tough guys, but eventually they get an audience with the mob boss played by Gary Oldman.
The guy is fine in the part, but he has so little screen time in this that it’s barely even worth mentioning. The deal goes smoothly, and Shia gets his fat stack of cash. The only problem is that by the time he gets back home, Forrest is already out of the hospital and he ain’t happy.
Despite Shia stealing the car and making deals behind their backs, they eventually acknowledge that he did well and let him continue to make deals. Shia also got a hint from the mob boss to the location of the guys who fucked up Forrest (apparently they were former associates), and conveys the message to his brothers. Shia is determined to go with them to get revenge, but they end up giving him the slip and Shia only makes it after all the bloody stuff is finished.
Shia ends up delivering the severed testicles to Rakes (Oh yeah. He’s in this.), who doesn’t take it well and begins to escalate his offense.
The movie then goes into montage mode where Shia is coming into his own and starts to get the nice clothes, fast cars, and even gets the preacher’s daughter to give him a second look. It’s nice to see that Shia’s character find something he’s good at, but it’s still mitigated by the fact that we know this isn’t going to end well. He may be making lots of money, but he’s also throwing it around and getting even more attention from the cops. He finally found out what he’s good at, but it’s going to his head way to quickly, and the inevitable fall is going to be that much worse for it. Anyway, the montage ends with a nude scene from Maggie.
Jessica Chastain is a great actress, and you can tell how hard she’s trying in this movie, but the script has nothing for her to do. Is it a shame that great actress get pushed to the side in movies like these? Yes. Is this nude scene anything but gratuitous? Nope. All that said, was I thinking of ANY of that when I first saw this scene? Not really because Jessica Chastain is SMOKING HOT! She’s pure sex in this scene and the only thing that pulls you out of it is the fact that she’s seducing Forrest who’s about as dense as you can get in this situation. He literally has to say “What are you doing?” AFTER she says she’s tired of him not making a move!
Despite Forrest’s ignorance, Shia’s hubris, and Howard’s… I don’t know, drunkenness I guess? He really hasn’t done much in this movie. Where was I? Oh right, despite all that, things seem to be looking up for the Bondurants! Except for that whole “police are breathing down your neck” thing. How’s that going by the way?
Yeah, they find an associate of theirs has become the latest victim of Rakes’ crusade, but this really doesn’t seem to bother them all that much considering that in the next scene, Shia is taking his girl for a drive. Not only that, but it’s a drive to the secret distillery that’s SUPPOSED TO STAY A SECRET! On top of THAT the cops are tailing him (probably because he’s driving a brand new fucking car) and Rakes descends on the hideout. Fortunately, Howard was nearby getting wasted on the supply, so he comes in and kicks some serious ass! Rakes gets taken down, but Shia is still unable to finish the job, so the cops get the upper hand, and the Bondurants brothers get away but lose the distillery to the cops. Not only that, but Shia’s friend Cricket was there and gets captured by the police, so you know this isn’t going to end well for him.
Seriously. Rakes doesn’t even try to get information out of the kid. He just snaps his fucking neck in a fit of rage. With the death of Cricket, it’s time for these three brothers to make their last stand. To get revenge for the death of a good man, and to rage against the machine! Rakes seems to know this as well because we’re told by the local sheriff (who’s pissed about the feds killing Cricket) that a whole squad of goons is coming to town and that they’ve already closed the bridges (i.e. no one gets in or out). Shia ends up rushing to meet his death, which spurs the other two to follow him. Before Forrest can leave though, we actually get a scene between him and Maggie that’s actually pretty good. She finally has a chance to speak up in this movie, and it’s to tell Forrest that he’s no better than Shia is considering that he believes in his own hype about being unkillable. We also find out that Forrest didn’t walk to the hospital after getting his neck sliced, but it was Maggie who drove him there. It’s a good scene, but I didn’t like the fact that Forrest quckly turns the conversation away from him and back to Maggie, questioning her what happened when she came back and found Forrest. We know she got attacked by the two thugs, and even though she won’t admit it, Forrest can tell that something happened. I’d rather that we had a bit more of Forrest being introspective before rushing out to save his brother, but the scene is still good in no small part due to Mrs. Chastain’s performance.
We cut back to Shia who has just driven up to a police barricade, gets out of the car, and starts waving around a shotgun demanding to see Rakes. WHAT!?!?
Your telling me the cops wouldn’t immediately open fire on a raving lunatic waving a shotgun around!? Oh wait. He’s white, so I guess it’s okay (TOPICAL HUMOR!!!). Rakes ain’t taking any of this shit though, and shoots Shia right in the stomach, taking him down immediately.
Fortunately, Howard and Forrest arrive on the scene (with some guy driving who I honestly don’t recognize) and start firing back at the cops. Forrest tries to drag Shia away, but gets shot by Rakes in the process and goes down. This ends up causing a cease fire, and Rakes is about to move in to take them into custody. At this point, the other townspeople drive up in support of the Bondurants, and this keeps our heroes from getting arrested. Rakes isn’t too happy about this, and is about to shoot Forrest in the head when the local sheriff puts a bullet in his leg.
At this point, Rakes throws a hissy fit and just hobbles away. Once he gets a safe distance though, he fires a few rounds into Forrest and then runs off as fast as he can. Shia and Howard follow him, and Shia finally pulls the trigger, putting two into the guys chest. This still doesn’t take Rakes out however, so Howard comes up from behind and sticks a knife in his ass.
Rakes wanders off for a bit more before finally collapsing and then dying. Howard and Shia walk off and the screen fades to black before coming back with the epilogue. Forrest didn’t actually die, and was okay after two weeks. It’s years later and all three brothers have married and now have kids (or at least Shia and Howard do. Not so sure about Forrest). I don’t know about this scene. It seems like they try to fit in the rest of these guys life within five minutes. We even find out that Forrest dies soon from pneumonia, which seems like a pretty sad note to end this on. Anyway, the three of them go straight, become farmers, and everyone lives happily ever after (at least for a little while in Forrest’s case). Maybe in a movie that was more focused on who these characters are instead of the trouble the get in, then maybe this scene wouldn’t feel out of place. Instead, it just seems like a weird not to end on.
This movie is actually pretty good, but as a whole it has some issues with its tone. At points, it’s really campy and fun, but at others it’s dark and contemplative. The two don’t mesh completely, and it makes a movie that either feels a bit too somber for its subject matter, or too silly to be taken seriously. There are points where this odd mishmash of drama and wackiness work (I thought the gunfight at the end was handled extremely well) but the movie overall has too many stretches of decent scenes punctuated by moments of its true potential shining through. The characters in this are also a mixed bag, with most of them either being unpleasant to watch, or feel out of place. I was never able to buy Tom Hardy as a red neck (he just LOOKS too British) but he was still a bad ass in this. Jessica Chastain is also great in what little screen time she has, but she always looks like she doesn’t belong in this time period. Shia LaBeouf fits this world and that character perfectly, but is still unpleasant to watch because the character is a petulant child. Guy Pearce is fucking great as a villain, but the movie never has enough for him to do and kind of forgets he exists for a good thirty minute stretch in the middle.
Despite my bitching about its inconsistency at points, it’s still a fun movie and is definitely worth your time. Shia may have become a walking joke within the last year (and frankly was a joke for the last ten years what with the Transformers movies and Indiana Jones sequel), but this movie shows that despite his flaws, he can still pull out a decent performance. Now if he can just figure out how to play a character that’s LIKABLE, then he’ll be set! Until then, you can see him be an obnoxious jerkwad in a movie that’s actually pretty damn good.