Get out y'ur guns 'n moonshine, we're reviewin' Lawless! I promise I'll stop now.
Considering this has Shia LaBeoef and it's got "Based on a true story" plastered all over, my expectations were pretty low. But surprisingly it's not terrible! More importantly, Shia Lebeouf is not terrible! It's still a poor man's version of Boardwalk Empire, but it's pretty good.
The biggest problem is that it's sllllloooooow and looooooonnng. It feels like a 3-night history channel movie put together in one long presentation. I kept expecting the big H to pop up in the corner next to a promotion for Pawn Stars. There are great actors acting and plenty of action and interesting things going on, but it's just so slow-going. Part of the problem is it has a pretty by-the-books story and it takes way too long to get to where we all no it's going anyways.
Thankfully all that long time is spent developing a great cast who all pull their acting weight. Gary Oldman is terrifying and fun as the gangster Floyd Banner and Guy Pierce plays an especially creepy Rakes. Even LeBeouf is surprisingly not bad, especially surprising since he's the main character and narrates a good portion of it. You can see how he keeps getting these big parts. Dan DeHaan from Chronicle also plays a part in the hapless Cricket, which I'm glad about. And then there's Tom Hardy, who's tough and menacing in his part as the older brother Forrest Bondurant, but he has an even funnier voice here than the one he did for Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. And it's always hilarious. I doubt it was intended to be, but it got to the point we'd make a joke about him doing his "mmmrhhhm" in a given scene and then he'd actually do it! It was never not ridiculous.
The action is visceral and intense. It's especially effective in the theater when you can feel the booming gunshots. Throats get cut, necks snapped, bodies shot through, balls cut off, people getting tarred and feathered, it's some brutal stuff. Also, way more breasts than I'd thought there'd be. All of that is great if you love intense and brutal action like I do, but if that's not your bag, this may not be the movie for you.
And now I'd like to talk about Racism. This movie does it right. A lot of movies won't mention it or they'll go the other extreme and have the whole movie about it. Here, they clearly display it and still have a large mixed cast, but they don't make it a major theme. That's pretty different, and I like it. You can clearly see there's a black community and they have whites only/blacks only facilities, but the whole movie isn't about how the Bondurants single-handedly ended racism.
The setting with all the costumes, cars and sets is pitch-perfect. It's just as dirty as I'd like it to be. The folks are colorful, but not too southern that you can't understand what they're saying. It's a fun movie and has a lot of great action and a great cast. But it's also very long and slow and sometimes unintentionally hilarious.
THE GOOD: Amazing cast, Shia LaBeouf is not terrible, great action, great set pieces, nudity, interesting take on racism, fun bootlegging movie.
THE BAD: long, slow, takes a while to get to where we all know it's going, Tom Hardy's voice, action may be too brutal for some.
THE VERDICT: $$$$ See It! It's long but it's still good. And you'll want to see how Tom Hardy's hick voice is even funnier than his Bane voice.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Boardwalk Empire, American Gangster, Public Enemy, the Untouchables, Justified
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: There is a sex scene with Tom Hardy's character. It feels like it should mean something, especially since Jessica Chastain gets naked, but then Tom Hardy speaks and it turns into the funniest part of the movie.