Lawless – Review (Spoiler Free)

Set during the prohibition era in America, we follow three bootlegging brothers who violently defend their right to remain independent against crooked lawmen looking for a cut of the business. Every member of the cast delivers a solid performance here; but Hardy, LaBeouf and Clarke as the Bondurant brothers and Guy Pearce as Rakes are the ones running this film. All four of these actors keep up with each other and maintain a high standard throughout. The detailed performances given by the two love interests (Chastain and Wasikowska) are ultimately sidelined and not of great importance to the film and Gary Oldman’s role is little more than an extended cameo, which was disappointing to see. Still, I can’t fault anyone in this film and it’s always nice to see the minor characters being as interesting as our leads.

Lawless does paint good and evil with some broad brushstrokes; despite the violence that the brothers commit, there is no doubt that we are meant to side with them and against the inhuman Rakes. It’s a shame that Pearce’s character – whilst played very well – is an out and out psychopath. We would still root for the brothers if a little more criticism was aimed at them due to the likeability and humour that Hardy and LaBeouf bring, and if the film eased back on painting the lawman so darkly we could have had a more complex portrayal of the opposing side, and by extension the entire violent situation. Or just leave the film wide open so that we aren’t forced to criticise anybody by the movie’s perspective, but instead form our own opinions. Lawless does function well for what it is trying to do, early into the film you recognise the bias and run with it, but it is a shame that it couldn’t have been a little braver here.

Slowly building in intensity, Lawless takes it’s time over a simple story but we are never allowed to feel bored. We are always aware that a sudden burst of violence could be just around the corner, or then again maybe it will be an unexpected laugh because the humour is fairly constant and is well handled. The violence is brutal and sounds painful, the little metallic ting left over by Hardy’s knuckle dusters adds a particularly visceral edge, but this is not the unnecessarily blood drenched film that some reviewers are describing it as. It spurts when it needs to but the blood is used intelligently and with restraint, it certainly doesn’t reduce the film’s power or credibility. Unfortunately Lawless does seem to be receiving many surprisingly negative reviews, which is rather unfair. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but is worthy of your attention and is one of the better films to have come out this year.


  1. I’m with you on all of this, except I didn’t particularly rate Guy Pearce’s performance. Certainly he wasn’t up to the standard of Hardy or Jason Clarke, or even LaBeouf.

    1. Fair enough, I think I can see why you think that about Pearce. I however feel that he gave a good performance but it was a mix of the direction/script which limited what we ended up seeing. I mean I hated the character from the get go, a seriously infuriating bad guy ( in a good way) and so I felt Pearce achieved exactly what was asked of him and did it well. Is it his character’s seriously satanic moral compass which you didn’t like or something specifically about his performance?
      Also as you may have now read Jason Clarke is playing George Wilson in Gatsby next year which should be interesting.

      1. I agree that the problem with that character lies more in the writing & direction than in Pearce’s performance; however, I don’t think he’s entirely innocent. See, I didn’t hate the character (himself), I hated the way the character was written/performed, to me it just felt like a moustache-twirling, tie-a-lady-to-the-tracks melodrama villain, same as with Billy Zane in Titanic. & it’s a shame, because I’m sure Guy Pearce could have achieved something much more interesting with a character who felt more human.
        Hmm, hadn’t read that about Gatsby but I can absolutely see Clarke as George; I can’t think of a better actor to cast.

        1. Yeah it’s a pretty great piece of casting, I also realised that I knew him from Public Enemies – have you seen that?

  2. Does Jason Clarke only live in the 30s then?

    1. It seems not – next year he’s going further back in time to play Lincoln’s father in The Green Blade Rises. (That name sounds very familiar.)

  3. Great review, I’m curious about this one now.

    1. Thanks man, well if it sounds like something you might like then I thoroughly recommend that you catch it at some point, even if on DVD. As I said in the review – it’s not an exceptional film but it has received an unfair reaction amongst a lot of critics and really was consistently entertaining and immersive.
      If you do wind up seeing it, drop back here or write a review, I would be interested to hear your opinion.

  4. Cool review man. I’m like you, I don’t really understand all the negative reviews. This is one of my favourites of the year and was chock full of really good performances as you say.

    1. I’m glad to hear that you’re another Lawless fan, there are far too few of us!
      Yeah everyone was pretty great in this film, hell I even preferred Hardy here over his performance as Bane – but I’m not sure that many would agree with me there. Thanks for the comment 🙂

      1. I loved both of those performances, but agree think his in Lawless was slightly better. But again, heaps of people hated that performance. Complained about how he was just grunting the whole time (in their opinion). I would have liked to see a little more of the Mia Wasikowska character, because I thought she gave a really interesting angle onto the whole thing. But that is my only slight criticism. Otherwise, loved it.

    2. Yeah I would have liked to see of Wasikowska.
      Have you seen much of Hardy’s earlier work, say ‘The Take’ for example?

      1. Nope, am pretty new to the Hardy Bandwagon. Tinker Tailor…, Lawless, Batman, Warrior are about it. Have really liked him in all of those. Any of his older stuff you would particularly recommend?

    3. Well it’s a good bandwagon to be on! 🙂
      The two that I would recommend most would be ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’ and ‘The Take’ (which is a TV mini series). He plays a really ugly character in ‘The Take’ but is just exceptional in his role. The other one that I would recommend just below those two is ‘Bronson’, and if you happen to be a fan of Wuthering Heights then it’s worth checking out his Heathcliff, he’s is great in the role but the rest of the film isn’t up to all that much.

      1. Ok awesome, thanks for all the suggestions. I have been meaning to check out Bronson for a while so will do so. And am a Wuthering Heights fan so may give that a look too.

    4. No problem, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts if you get around to them.

  5. A lot of people had a lot of things to say about Lawless, but I adored it. Everyone that watched it with me (in the many subsequent viewings) all seemed to enjoy it, too.

    1. Glad to hear that! I was really confused at the bad press that Lawless received. In fact thanks for commenting on this post as I now reckon that I’ll rent it soon and give it a re-watch!

      1. Always a pleasure to be of assistance!

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