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Lawless Not Flawless as Critics Left Lukewarm by Bootlegger Blockbuster

Posted on the 30 August 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Shia LaBeouf in Lawless. Shia LaBeouf in Lawless.

The story

Directed by Australia’s John Hillcoat (The Road) comes this adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s historical novel, The Wettest County in the World. Set in Depression-era Virginia, Lawless tells the true story of the three Bondurant brothers, bootleggers chasing after the American dream up against corrupt lawmen who want a cut of their profits.

The film has a strong, all-star cast – Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Guy Pierce, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska among them – but critics are underwhelmed (and prone to booze-related puns).

Lawless is a minor classic in the making. But minor it will remain, as even with quality ingredients, the film never quite mixes together to deliver a potent brew,” said Kate Erbland at Box Office.

‘Lively but forgettable’

According to many critics, including Stephen Garrett from Time Out New York, Lawless had some very energetic scenes, but was, for the most part, forgettable. Jason Solomons from The Guardian agreed that the movie was “star-studded and violent”, but at the same time, “empty as a broken whisky bottle”. “What works about Lawless may get audiences buzzed,” added Kate Erbland from Box Office, “but they’ll never feel thrillingly soused.” Eric Kohn from IndieWire was especially unimpressed: “Everyone in front and behind the camera can do better than this, and so can the genre. A great revisionist western might resurrect the genre’s appeal, but ‘Lawless’ makes the case for a moratorium.”

Lacking emotional core

It also seems to lack emotional core, said Erbland from Box Office, and though it deals with themes of loyalty, family and survival, suggested Solomons from The Guardian, something about it still “feels aimless and predictable, all dressed up with nowhere to go. Except up a few red carpets, of course.”

But it’s not all bad

It really isn’t that bad, argued Jesse Cataldo from Slant Magazine. And that is mainly because the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. “Because the movie remains so firmly focused on functioning as pure entertainment, flaws like a botched central conflict and cardboard female characters don’t detract as much as they might,” she said. Moreover, she concluded that it is “A colorful, carefully paced, and deliriously violent update of gangster archetypes, […] the perfect bridge between the senseless blather of summer and the hollow pomposity of awards season.”

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