How do you know when Oscar season is upon us? How about when summer turns to fall, true stories (or at least movies inspired by true stories) become the norm, and your favorite actors aren’t in movies so much for the money but rather the awards, often in ensemble casts (we know, we know, it’s their calling to be drawn towards this profession).
Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A: John Hillcoat’s Lawless which, even it was a two-hander about suicide set on death row, would still be a cheerier proposition than his last film, The Road, which even made for more miserable viewing than the 2012 Boston Red Sox. But rather than being about the end of the world — and that’s more than enough about the Red Sox — Lawless tells the true story (told you so!) of the Bondurant brothers, who were bootleggers trying to make it big in Prohibition-era Virginia.
These brothers-in-arms are Jack, Forrest and Howard, played by Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke (which is the order in which you imagine they’ll appear on the credits) and they’re clearly not going to get it all their own way. They’ll need to contend with Chicago-based cop Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce), a menacing Al Capone-esque character called Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) and – natch – some love interests in the shape of Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain.
Opinion seems divided among the critics. In the minus column is our very own Richard Corliss, who feels that Lawless “tries to be flawless; as a movie, it’s often listless — lifeless.” A.O. Scott of the New York Times isn’t much happier, concluding that, “There are too many action-movie clichés without enough dramatic purpose, and interesting themes and anecdotes are scattered around without being fully explored. This is weak and cloudy moonshine: it doesn’t burn or intoxicate.” But all is not lost: Time Out London reckons that “it makes for an oddly comfy experience considering the death and hurt at the film’s core,” and the Hollywood Reporter recognizes that even “if Lawless doesn’t achieve the mythic dimensions of the truly great outlaw and gangster movies, it is a highly entertaining tale set in a vivid milieu, told with style and populated by a terrific ensemble.” (Told you so again!)