Tom Hardy Shines in Plotless “Lawless”

By Danny Marchant

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If 2011 was the year of Michael Fassbender, then 2012 is the year of Tom Hardy.

Since his breakthrough role in “Inception,” Hardy has stolen the show in film after film. Last seen trying to blow up Gotham City with a nuclear device as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Hardy returns to the screen as one of the bootlegging Bondurant Brothers in the new film “Lawless.”

The movie is directed by John Hillcoat (director of both “The Road” and “The Proposition”) and tells the story of the three Bondurant brothers: Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Forrest,(Hardy) as they deal with prohibition and its corrupt enforcers. The film is based on “The Wettest County in the World,” a historical novel by Matt Bondurant, one of the brothers’ grandsons.

“Lawless” feels like a story passed down from generation to generation. While it is certainly based on some true events, it has likely grown more dramatic through the years. The film opens with Jack talking about the legend surrounding Forrest Bondurant, who lived through a disease epidemic that killed their parents. While fighting in World War I, Forrest’s whole platoon was killed in an attack, leaving him as the sole survivor. Later in the war, the same thing happened again, resulting in Forrest’s supposed immortality.

If any modern actor is capable of embodying the feat of invincibility, it’s Hardy. While Hardy was once cast as a skinny kid in an English gangster film, he has managed to recreate himself as something of a menace. Whether it’s breaking Batman’s back or beating up hillbillies with brass knuckles, Hardy is quickly becoming the face of present-day action films.

The character of Forrest works well because Hardy imbues him with both threat and eccentricity. He has a backwoods drawl – Hardy is also becoming the go-to guy for distinctive voices – that never rises above a mutter. Forrest doesn’t yell because he doesn’t have to and Hardy truly channels the “less-is-more” mantra. He commands the attention of the audience this way, proving that over-the-top acting isn’t always the answer.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for LaBeouf, who, despite acting pretty well, always appears as if he’s overacting. That’s the problem; LaBeouf simply tries too hard to have an on-screen presence. He can’t be blamed though when he’s surrounded by actors like Jessica Chastain and Gary Oldman.

LaBeouf yells, flails his arms, sweats profusely and only falls down when he can milk it for a few seconds. Granted, Jack Bondurant is the least compelling character in the movie.

The other problem with “Lawless” is the plot. Hillcoat tells a lot of different stories about the Bondurant brothers, but never manages to pull them all together into one story, which disrupts the flow of the story.

Guy Pearce, as the film’s oily anatagonist, is given little to do for long stretches of the film.

Chastain does well as Forrest’s love interest, but the film doesn’t give her the attention she deserves.

Meanwhile, if Hillcoat was planning to cast Oldman as a Chicago gangster, he should have given him more than 10 minutes of screen time.

“Lawless” is certainly not flawless, but it is filled with solid performances by both up-and-comers and veterans.

And although it was marketed as an epic about crime and morality, it isn’t that. It is a collection of well-acted and well-shot scenes that will entertain.

Plus, though he’s hardly in it, Oldman gets to fire a Tommy gun, which is surely worth the price of admission.

Danny Marchant can be reached at [email protected]