I can see why Hollywood can’t get enough of the Prohibition era. It has guns, gangs, and a period setting that can give a movie the sheen of a prestige picture. Lawless unfortunately, wastes all these elements.
The film’s cinematography and product design are superb. The bloody violence combined with period detail set the look and feel of a true to life gangster tale.
It’s supported by strong performances from the cast – Tom Hardy as Forrest the taciturn eldest, Jason Clarke as Howard the violent right hand, Shia Lebouf as Jack the runt of the litter, and Guy Pearce as Rakes the sadistic villain. The female characters – Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain – were able to make an impact despite their small roles.
Unfortunately, the supposed epic outlaw tale never takes off. Lawless has an interesting premise but it’s squandered by a narrative that’s too preoccupied with its subplots. The film’s point of view is filtered through Jack, and we get more of his coming of age story than the main narrative. On top of this, Jack’s story is a run-of-the-mill underdog tale of the weak link in the pack.
The film does get around to pay attention to its epic tale but does so in short bursts. As a result, most of what you get are fillers that don’t move the story forward nor add any substance to it. When something does finally happen it’s too late to care and you don’t have anybody to root for.
In the end, the film strains to reach the greatness it has set out for itself. Lawless is an empty and disappointing outlaw tale of three brothers who somehow managed to make it alive.
Lawless is a beautifully shot but poorly executed outlaw tale with a lifeless plot that its cast can't save.