‘Lawless’ redeems dry first half with action and believable villain

Shia LaBeouf has been trying hard to convince people that he is a legitimate actor rather than just a silly kid who made it big off of a Disney show. I personally don’t think he will ever be taken seriously as a leading man in dramas, but he tries his best, nonetheless, and stranger things have happened. 

”Lawless,” is a very violent and very gritty western-style movie about three brothers in the Depression era who work as bootleggers. They hustle the country’s finest moonshine around day in and day out and find a great deal of success doing so. Once a new deputy, wonderfully acted by Guy Pierce, comes into town, the boys are threatened. Trapped in a corner, they realize that the business and social lives they had been living until then will be difficult from here on out.

The many positives from this film stem from the acting. Guy Pierce, as underrated as he is, can really get into characters with no problem and can really move scenes along with force and grit. This role is no exception. He really owns it playing a law abiding villain, even if his makeup and costume selection are a bit odd. It should also be a golden rule from now on that if Tom Hardy is in a movie, his performance must be talked about. We saw him earlier in the year as Bane in ”The Dark Knight Rises” (at least I hope we all did), and, in a lot of ways, his new character is quite similar. You get the most out of him by looking at his facial expressions, and he grunts as though he’s wearing a mask. Sound like a bad thing? To some people it might be, but it worked for me. He came across as this authoritative older brother who would put you in the hospital just for bumping into him, and his voice worked for his actions.

While the rest of the performances were no where near bad, no one else stood out. LaBeouf really does give it his all, but I would have  liked him more as a supporting character instead of the guy in your ear throughout the whole film narrating what’s going on right in front of you.  Jessica Chastain, a newly-crowned Oscar nominee, plays a character I felt was wasted. She wasn’t bad, but the character was just so average compared to the types she usually plays that it was disappointing to see her do this. When her character is introduced in the first few scenes, it’s as a girl just looking to get away from the big city, when she meets the brothers who put her to work. That’s her character for the first half of this movie, and she could have and should have done more.

Chastain’s role wasn’t the only dry spot in the first half. I can’t really sugar coat this: I was really bored in the first half of this movie. Simply put, nothing interesting happens. Gary Oldman shows up for five minutes total (not kidding) and expresses his interest in doing business with the brothers, but that’s about all that interested me. Oldman’s entrance on screen involved tearing through a car with his fast moving trigger fingers and a ton of bullets.  It was adrenaline pumping to watch and he does nothing else for the entirety of the film. Everything else includes choppy dialogue and a love story between LaBeouf and Mia Wasikowska that was forced beyond belief. They didn’t have an ounce of spark together and I still don’t know what he saw in her. Bottom line, the first half is a dry bore that had me contemplating a trip to the concession stand just so I had a diversion to keep me awake.

The second half on the other hand, was much better. It’s not only because there is more action, but because the stakes get higher and the tension finally starts to explode off the screen. Director John Hillcoat seems to finally get what kind of movie he wants it to be at this point, and the plot becomes an easier one to follow. The action is a joy to watch, despite some violence that may bother some, because of the lack of the shaky cam that is used in most action movies today, making them a headache you are forced to endure.

The second half is what makes “Lawless” recommendable in the end. Is it the movie I wanted it to be? Not exactly, but there is an audience out there for it. A period drama about the Prohibition that’s sometimes interesting and sometimes a bore. It’s a movie I can’t imagine anyone wanting to see a second time, but the performances and well-constructed second half are worth your time to see at least once.