Lawless is set in Virginia during the Great Depression. A family of bootleggers try to keep a leg up on corrupt politicians wanting a cut of their profits. Other bootleggers agree to the arm-twisting and to keep the peace, they ante up.
The Bondurants -- led by older brother Forrest -- refuse.
The film's early focus is Tom Hardy's Forrest. After defying death a bunch of times, Forrest believes he's invincible. So he fearlessly defies any and all.
Doing his best Kevin Costner Dances with Wolves impression, Hardy shambles through the movie, mumbling his lines. Forrest is an interesting character who deserves more energy. Hardy -- unlike his nice turn as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises -- is lifeless and flat.
When the push to make Forrest the center of the film fails, musician turned writer Nick Cave (The Proposition) and director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) switch gears and give Transformers star Shia LeBeouf center stage and a chance to show he can do more than dodge CGI-created machines.
Maybe with a deeper character and a better screenplay, LeBeouf could have shown us some chops. His story, like the movie, goes nowhere until the expected, predictable and violent climax.
Lawless does have positives. No one is a better villain than Guy Pearce (Prometheus, The King's Speech). Hair slicked down and combed back, nattily dressed to the nines, Pearce is a fun, nasty piece of work who -- unfortunately -- is underused.
Jessica Chastain (The Help) is exceptional as a woman escaping her past. Jane Eyre's Mia Wasikowska always lights up the screen and, like Pearce, both are underused.
Lawless bounds about the landscape desperately seeking solid ground. The novel that the movie is "based" upon is itself based upon a true story. That definition leaves writers, directors and actors lots of room to play. Where room to play often lets creative types get creative, all Cave and Hillcoat can manage is aimless wandering.
Mr. Movie rating: 2 stars
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Nick Cave
Stars: Tom Hardy, Shia LeBeouf, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowski, Gary Oldman
Rated R for violence, mature themes. It's playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.