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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: Sept 5: A Double Team Review: Lawless


Sept 5: A Double Team Review: Lawless

"Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits."
Directed by: John Hillcoat, Rated: R, 116 minutes

Here's something a little different today for The Cinematic Katzenjammer. Lately, I've been really wanting to change things up a bit and inject the site with a bit more variety so I decided to partner up with Joe from Two Dude Review (and fellow As You Watch member) for a review of Lawless, the new gangster movie about a group of moon-shining brothers in 1920s Virginia. Below, you can find our discussion. As a note, I am in blue and Joe is in red. 

N. First off, what are your initial thoughts of Lawless?

J. I liked the movie, but I didn't love it. I thought the film's setting was good, and I thought most of the acting was good, but I had a few issues with certain characters and some of the story-line. 

N. So did I. I really liked most of the characters but there were some 'stretches' in the realism that I found really out of place. I love the setting and the look of the film, but it's flaws were things that really stood out.

J. I thought Guy Pearce and Tom Hardy were great! Especially Pearce.

N. Guy Pearce is so swarmy and evil. He's such a good villain. I really liked him in it too. Hardy is great, as always. I was really disappointed at the lack of Gary Oldman though.

Pearce does a terrific job at making you hate his living guts. The guy's a f**ker of epic proportions. 

J. I was also disappointed that Gary Oldman didn't play a bigger part. After seeing him as Jim Gordon so much over the past years, or at least its felt that way, I enjoyed seeing him in what I thought to be a villain, but I was left wanting so much more of him. 

N. He was only in like three scenes. His introduction teases us that he'll play a huge role. Then he just vanishes.

J. Exactly! He was used more as a plot device for Shia's Jack. Speaking of which, I liked Shia's acting in this more than in anything else I can remember. 

N. I did too. I think it's easily one of his best performances. As the star, the focus is almost entirely on him and yet he is able to stand up to the talents of Hardy, Pearce, and Oldman. On our podcast I mentioned that this was his make or break film, and I think it certainly did more for him than anything else.

J. For the most part I agree; I think he still is easily overshadowed by the better actors, but like you said I don't think he did his career anything but good. 

N. He had a few moments that were shockingly good. After a certain character's death, his response is hard to watch. And towards the end, when he lets his 'gangster flag' fly, he shows signs he could really be a badass.

J. I agree on all accounts. One thing that I couldn't get out of my head was every time Tom Hardy would grunt or huff or talk in his muffled voice I had visions of Bane.

N. Really? I didn't think so at all. I did think that when he'd lower his voice even more that he sounded like Bane. And you could certainly tell some of the weight he gained for Bane had faded off a bit. He had a little stomach underneath his sweater and fedora.

J. Yeah, it was only when it was softer or lower, but it was there. I thought he looked a little slimmer too, but he's such an imposing figure that unless he really slims down it's difficult to see a whole lot of difference.

Hardy, pulling off the Cosby sweater and the Indy fedora. 

N. Now most of the conversation around the film is the known-name stars. I thought a lot of the smaller characters really stood out, especially Cricket (Dane DeHaan) and Howard (Jason Clarke). The film is really packed to the brim with talent.

J. Cricket is definitely an under appreciated character. I thought Dane DeHaan really stood out in his scenes and was less overshadowed than Shia. 

N. Have you seen ChronicleHe's having one hell of a year.

J. Jason Clarke is such a good character actor. I've watched him on a number of TV shows and have always thought he was good. And yes, I did see Chronicle and thought he was one of the reasons that I thought the movie was fairly enjoyable. 

J. Oh, and let's not forget the gorgeous Jessica Chastain. It's been awhile since I've had an actress that I wanted to see anything she was in. Chastain and Emma Stone are both becoming that type of actress as far as I'm concerned.

N. And she's naked!


She can be in everything and I'd be perfectly okay with it. 

N. Moving on to the story, what did you think of the bulk of the plot? Anti-heroes running the town, then the bad guy from the city comes in and wreaks havoc. We've seen it tons of times before.

J. We have, but I like the "hillbilly" aspect of this. My problems were more geared towards how quickly the sheriff went from buying from the brothers to threatening them all because of one guy?

N. Yeah. Small town folk are apparently easily manipulated by Guy Pearce.
From the trailers, I was assuming that Pearce was coming to town to stop Gary Oldman's character, not the Bondurant brothers.

J. Right, I think if Gary Oldman's Floyd was behind Charlie Rakes being there, then it would be more believable.

N. Exactly. I don't see why one big time city "special detective" would come in to clean up a bunch of moonshiners.

J. Even if he was dirty and planned to just rustle them up to get paid, he was one guy, all alone. 

N. Yeah. He had no allies yet was able to "lock down" an entire town.

J. The other problem I had was how quickly all the other bootleggers fell in line behind Rakes. 

N. I think a part of that is because they wanted to focus entirely on the Bondurants and not the entire county. But yes, they could have embellished a bit more.

N. My biggest complaint of the story was the realism factor. I know it's based on a true story (I think the source material was actually written by a real Bondurant), but there were so many moments I almost laughed at because of how unbelievable it was.

J. Yes, the book was written by Matt Bondurant, Jack's grandson, hence the reason I think Jack got so much of the focus. It's based off his book, The Wettest County in the World. I believe you mentioned this previously in one of our podcasts, but that's such a cooler title than Lawless

N. It certainly is. But back to that realism factor. Did that bug you? There's only so much one person can take before they die.

J. I think there's a certain level of disbelief we should expect to have with movies, and it becomes less when films are "based on a true story". Having said that, yes it became a little unbelievable how much punishment was dealt out without the character dying (similar to I Saw the Devil). 

N. Back to before, one aspect I really liked (that you touched upon) was the more hillbilly approach to that era. Most gangster movies set in the 20s are all set in New York or Chicago, never the small towns on the outskirts. I do wish they delved a little more into the actual moon-shining. A little history lesson would be cool, and seeing them all actually working on it would have shown a bit. Minus the dirty work, I don't remember seeing Hardy doing anything else.

J. Exactly, and taking Pearce's Charlie Rakes out of 20s Chicago and putting him in hillbilly Franklin County, VA was nice. And yeah, I was intrigued by the scenes that were more focused on the moonshine; probably a reason I liked Cricket so much since he was in just about all of those scenes. 

N. Yeah. The film had a gorgeously bleak setting and good characters, but I wish there was more detail in the story. In the moonshining aspect, as well as the town and everything.

J. Oh yeah, and what was the point of Shia's Jack courting the preacher's daughter (played by Mia Wasikowska)? Does every movie need a love story, I mean c'mon! I didn't hate her, I just didn't see the need to have her there. 

N. Yeah, those parts I didn't really care for. I thought they made Shia look too young as well. It made him look too soft. 

J. Yeah, and I thought he actually looked older as the film moved along. They really could have done without her. He was hardened by what was going on around him. 

N. Exactly. And by the film's end, after everything he's been through, I don't see how she'd be in the picture. 

He's all grown up... kind of. 

N. It's also worth mentioning that John Hillcoat directed this movie, who also did The Road and The Proposition (another Pearce flick). He certainly has a flair for the dark and gritty. I think the visuals of the film were one of the best parts.

J. Absolutely! He definitely uses what he knows. 

N. Would you recommend seeing the film in theaters?

J. When you consider what else is out there, I think this and Premium Rush are the two things worth seeing.

N. I'd recommend it too. Right now there's kind of a drought in movies to actually see in theaters that are actually worth it. While it's a flawed film, it's definitely worth seeing.

J. For the performances alone. 

N. And the visual 'grit' Hillcoat's come to be known for.

J. Although he's not 'seen' really in The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy is a name that people really need to familiarize themselves with because he's definitely one of the best actors working right now. 

N. He is. And with Lawless, I'm happy to say that Shia's here to stay. He shows more promise than ever here and I'm really excited to see where he takes his career.


N. To wrap up, what you would give the film on your new and fancy Canoli System?

J. Four cannoli out of six. And what about your point system?

N. Out of 10, I give it a 7.6

As you can tell, I really liked the film but could not ignore it's flaws. Lawless is a gritty gangster piece set in the beautiful backdrop of Virginia that packs a hell of a lot of violence and terrific acting. While I appreciate the gritty tone of the film, I wish that more detail was put into the actual setting and story and wish that something based on a true story would, in fact, feel more believable than this end result. I still recommend it though. There's just really a lack for this kind of 'period piece' these days and seeing a different part of the 1920s is quite enjoyable. 

The Good:
a stellar cast full of talented people and a glimpse at what Shia LaBeouf is capable of, post-Transformers 
The Bad:
a dark character study that focuses a little too much on Shia's character and not enough on the those around him or the town he's living in
The Ugly:
moments where any realism seems to fly out the window and the frustrations that the film doesn't have the balls to go places you'd not expect

Overall: 7.6/10


What do you think of this little experiment? Would it be something you'd like to see again? Hell, even share in one with me? As I expand the blog I'm willing to try all sorts of things and would love to not only get feedback from all of you, but your participation as well. 

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At September 5, 2012 at 6:29 PM , Blogger Two Tickets For... said...

Great review guys! Agreed with you that there isn't enough Gary Oldman, that DeHaan does a great job, and that Jack's courtship felt more like something to move the storyline along.

Only thing we disagree on is the believability. We didn't mind it.

Oh, and we liked the format of the review ;) We'd love to do a dual review with you sometime.

At September 5, 2012 at 6:32 PM , Blogger Nick said...


At September 6, 2012 at 5:17 AM , Blogger Sati. said...

Great review - conversation :) I may give this one a shot on DVD, surprised Labeouf is good in this, he seems like such a miscast here for me.

At September 6, 2012 at 8:33 AM , Blogger Nick said...

Thanks. He's a good surprise. Also, I'd love to do a Double Team with you sometime :)

At September 6, 2012 at 8:35 AM , Blogger Joe Giuliano said...

I had a lot of fun with this Nick!

In reading a number of Lawless reviews since we did this, it appears we saw the film the same way everyone else did.

I look forward to the next one.

At September 6, 2012 at 8:36 AM , Blogger Nick said...

Aye, captain. As do I.

At September 11, 2012 at 9:16 AM , Blogger Two Tickets For... said...

*universe implodes*

At September 11, 2012 at 9:23 AM , Blogger Nick said...

EXPLODES. Make it sexy.

At September 18, 2012 at 5:07 PM , Anonymous Lights Camera Reaction said...

Was really disappointed in this film :/
Great post though!

At September 18, 2012 at 7:09 PM , Blogger Nick said...

Yeah, the more I thought about it, the more I was disappointed. Still a solid movie though.


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