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Lawless (2012) formerly Wettest County - John Hillcoat and Nick Cave


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#21 Christian

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 07:43 PM

Just linked to David Thomson's review, which -- spoiler alert! -- mentions one of the Forrest incidents that might have made people laugh, although I found it more shocking than humorous:

As Forrest Bondurant, Tom Hardy grunts and sighs; he has a funny bow-legged walk; he does a little shuffle dance on the bank of a river at night, and falls into the water. When his throat has been cut, he holds the two flaps of skin together and walks 20 miles to the hospital. He is “invincible,” as the legend goes, or he is an actor having the time of his life and suggesting that he might be capable of playing Charles Laughton one day.

EDIT: Man, to be able to write a summary sentence like this, buried in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of a review. Like it's easy:

So it’s a picture based on an old movie formula, sharply observed, played with relish, and unashamed of how far it is from any searching truth.

Edited by Christian, 04 September 2012 - 07:45 PM.


#22 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 01:27 PM

: - Another insight that is probably fundamentally determinative of how you are going to feel about this film is whether you believe it was morally wrong to engage in the liquor business during Prohibition.

That's an intriguing way of putting it. Clearly, it is never absolutely wrong to engage in liquor, per se, even if the state says it is. But to engage in the liquor *business*... well, that depends on what the business entails. And the state, by making liquor illegal, guaranteed that the only people who *would* engage in the business would be criminals. The only way to *survive* in that business was, in fact, to *become* a criminal, with all the murder and whatnot that that entailed. So, I'd be inclined to say that it *was* morally wrong to engage in that business (though it would not have been morally wrong to make liquor for your own personal consumption).

"Criminals," according to natural law political philosophy, are not defined by the government or positive law. Blackstone didn't really regard violators of malum prohibitum to be criminals. If, in order to survive, you have to engage in self-defense (whether against gangsters or prohibition agents), that still doesn't really get you into trouble with Rutherford, Hooker, Locke, Montesquieu or Blackstone.

Interestingly enough, Lawless touches on these distinctions. It is clear that Forrest wants nothing to do with either the gangsters or the corrupt law enforcement. Jack, on the other hand, idolizes the gangsters (particularly Gary Oldman's character) and, left to himself, would probably become one of them (if he hasn't already). Part of the story here seems to be that Forrest sees this tendency in Jack, and that is why he tries to keep him out of it. As far as the violence goes, unlike the gangsters, the Bondurants are not interested in fighting any wars over territory. There is one specific scene where Forrest and Howard do act for revenge instead of defense, but it's uncharacteristic of them, and there's nothing about what they do in that one scene that was really necessary to protect their business. The problem with prohibiting something outside of the government's natural sphere, is that it gives law enforcement an especially naturally corrupting power. If you're going to stand up to that, it doesn't necessarily make you one of the bad guys.

I'm not saying it would be easy to work in a career that was against the law. When the only way for a business to exist is in the black market, that is just the sort of business that is going to attract the more unsavory elements of society - including habitual criminals who tend to have a lifestyle of disregarding the law in the first place. But that doesn't mean that, during Prohibition, there were not a very large number of Americans who engaged in producing and selling liquor with a clear conscience. And they were regular traditional citizens who did not have a habit of flouting the law otherwise.

#23 Overstreet

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 11:43 AM

Barbara Nicolosi returns to film-review blogging with a condemnation of Lawless.

Even before we get to the moral problems of the spectacular violence in Lawless, its more inexcusable failing is that the movie comes down to just another sad example of tragic waste. Hollywood really, really, really ought to know better by now. The audience sure does. So, why can’t all the producers, directors and executives figure it out?


Edited by Overstreet, 17 September 2012 - 09:09 PM.


#24 Christian

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 10:42 AM

I paid $10.50 to see this at my local theater. Had been thinking about the movie a lot since seeing it at an advance screening and wanted to evaluate it once more on the big screen. On second view, the weakness of Shia's character and performance bothered me less, and the film's strengths remained strong. I'm a pretty big fan of this one.

EDIT: Meant to add that I hadn't realized just how much there is in the film about Forrest being "indestructible" until I saw the film a second time. I don't know how that aspect flew under the radar for me the first time. It makes the humorous reaction to Forrest's, well, indestructibility a bit more understandable.

Edited by Christian, 20 September 2012 - 12:24 PM.


#25 Jason Panella

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 10:46 AM

The AV Club interviewed Nick Cave, and he talks at length about Lawless. I love how Cave references Sylvester and Tweety as if they were some rare cultural artifact.

Also, Christian, I finally saw the comments on your review of this. I'm glad a lot of folks stood up for you.

Edited by Jason Panella, 20 September 2012 - 10:47 AM.


#26 M. Leary

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 10:48 AM

I actually liked how Shia appearing to be out of his league as an actor brought to life the same elements in the character he played, who Forrest correctly observed was out of his league in the business.

#27 M. Leary

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 11:25 AM

As far as the violence goes, unlike the gangsters, the Bondurants are not interested in fighting any wars over territory. There is one specific scene where Forrest and Howard do act for revenge instead of defense, but it's uncharacteristic of them, and there's nothing about what they do in that one scene that was really necessary to protect their business.


This scene really is the dark heart of the film, which still puzzles me.

We are initially seduced by Forrest's brand of familial loyalty and resistance to the base elements of his industry. He is presented to us as a sort of moral center to the film. At least, his attempts to protect his brother and his barkeep feel chivalrous - in contrast to the duplicity of local cops, gangsters, and the creepy lawman. But then this scene happens, in which great violence is suggested, as if the film wants to retract that initial idea that there is a moral center somewhere in this story. We think differently of Forrest after that.

I think there is a bit of a shell game going on here in that the film wants to depict a world in which these moral questions about justice and violence fail to cohere, but can't help setting up the audience in order to underscore that idea. Which I don't like.

#28 Christian

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Posted 20 September 2012 - 12:20 PM

Also, Christian, I finally saw the comments on your review of this. I'm glad a lot of folks stood up for you.

Thanks, Jason. I'm bracing myself for another possible round for a review that publishes tomorrow.

#29 Christian

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 10:07 PM

Anne Thompson, during her interview with John Hillcoat and Nick Cave, says she thinks Lawless is more a Western than a Gangster film. Cave says it's both, which makes it "a Wankster film."

That's funny.

#30 Christian

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 08:00 PM

I'm listening to an "Oscar Poker" podcast, and Jeff Wells and Sasha Stone are discussing how outraged/put off they were by the indestructibility factor in Lawless. They couldn't get past it, ruined the film for them.

#31 Christian

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Posted 28 September 2012 - 01:08 PM

Nick Olson has a good piece on the film at Christ and Pop Culture in which he pulls from this thread.

#32 Justin Hanvey

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 03:50 PM

After seeing this finally last week I have to say I'm disappointed. It's not cause the movie wasn't well done, or that the actors didn't do their jobs well. Like others here I loved Gary Oldman, and laughed a little at Forrest (irony in the name itself and his sorta slow but deeply thinking character). All that worked for me. But the moral at the heart of this movie, the way too played out violent revenge is okay, is one that I just can't stand behind as a moviegoer anymore. You can see this very mindset put into words by the upcoming Nicolas Winding Refn movie "Only God Forgives."

And that's the problem, all these movies treat forgiveness as if it's weakness.

Some directors and writers could do with a re-viewing of Ghandi or The Mission.

I also feel a little sad whenever an actress I really like finally does a nude role. But I guess that's a personal thing, I know there are many even in Christian circles that find nothing wrong with nudity in movies and in some cases might even find them necessary. And I guess on a purely pragmatic level they don't bother me, but I also have certain feelings about the human form being sacred for spousal eyes only, and that it must hurt the conscience and self worth of a woman especially a bit to give in to doing roles like that. Not really much else to say about that.