Lawless Review

            With a top-notch cast, a director with his star on the rise and an interesting choice for a screenwriter, it would seem that Lawless would be one of the better films of the year.  For the most part, Lawless lives up to that promise.  It certainly has its issues but as popcorn entertainment for adults, it hits all the right notes.

            Lawless follows the almost fairytale-styled story of the Bondurant brothers, who try to continue their bootlegging business as the government sends in a special agent (Guy Pearce) to bring them down.

            The film is directed by John Hillcoat, whose most recent film, The Road, was a great adaptation of an even better book.  Hillcoat has made a name for himself by using a dark and violent visual style.  This and his past history with westerns (including The Propositionand a Red Dead Redemption short film) seemingly made him the perfect choice to direct this quasi-western (it’s set during the Prohibition era but has many hallmarks of the western genre).  Sure enough Hillcoat delivers.  This isn’t groundbreaking work, but everything Hillcoat puts into this film reaffirms that he is a director to look out for in the future.  The action is striking.  The world-building is done exceptionally and the visual style is something different from your typical action or western film.
            The films faults are really due to Nick Cave (yes, the musician)’s script.  It seems like the script is trying to make its characters stand out a little too much (like with Tom Hardy’s Forrest) or is including characters just because they are cool (like Gary Oldman’s Floyd Banner).  The script also tries to include a twist that causes some awkward pacing before it is finally revealed (the twist is worth it in the end though as it gives one character a major moment).  It also doesn’t help that a very serious film like this suddenly decides to go for the dark humor route for its ending.

            The real selling point of this film, however, has always been the cast, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Tom Hardy (just off his performance as Bane) brings back his tough guy act along with a new accent.  The film builds his character up as a legend and Hardy doesn’t disappoint in living up to that as it seems so much is going on with this guy when he rarely ever speaks.  Hardy is boosted by a bunch of great turns including Jason Clarke (who gets the least showy of the three leads but makes the most of it), Guy Pearce (wonderfully campy), Jessica Chastain (quiet until she nails her big moment in the final act), Mia Wasikowska (a lovely presence) and Gary Oldman (almost unrecognizable in a cameo).

            My biggest worry about this film going in was the large role that was given to Shia LaBeouf.  This worry was for naught as LaBeouf ends up being perfectly casted.  He is supposed to be playing a guy that is out of his league, and LaBeouf makes the most of that.  Also surprising is that Dane DeHaan (who brought down Chronicle a few notches for me) is good in his supporting turn.

            Lawless doesn’t reinvent the wheel (or anything close to it), but as a film that comes out right as the movie season switches from the summer season of blockbusters to the fall season of adult dramas it is great entertainment.


The Expendables 2 Review

            As pure summer entertainment, The Expendables 2 might be one of the best.  It’s well paced.  It’s jam packed with action.  It’s got a couple of laughs here and there.  It even has a movie star (or quite a few to be exact) in its cast.  The film never strives to be something important and that might be its greatest strength.  The Expendables 2 is a film that knows exactly what it is: a dumb, fun action film.

            The Expendables 2 picks up right where the first one left off.  Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his crew of mercenaries (The Expendables) find themselves in debt to Church (Bruce Willis) after they took all of the rewards from the mission in the first film instead of handing them over to the CIA.  They now must track down a device that harbors the location of unused, Soviet Union weapon-ized plutonium.  However, Ross and his team must get to the device before another group of mercenaries led by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) get there first. 

            Simon West takes over directing duties from Sylvester Stallone (who said it would be too much to direct, write and act in this sequel) for this film.  Surprisingly West brings some real visual flair that was missing from the first film.  He is also a great director of action to boot.  While the first film features a cool action-filled finale, West is able to fit in two memorable action scenes.  They aren’t just any sorts of action scenes; these two are large-scale action set pieces that last for about ten minutes.  Despite not being back as director, Stallone co-wrote the screenplay along with Richard Wenk.  In a film like this, you wouldn’t expect a good screenplay.  However, Stallone and company write a screenplay that knows what it is (a story about a bunch of aging action heroes).  There’s no time spent on setting up a ridiculous MacGuffin, and the film wisely uses this extra time to put in some self-deprecating humor.  Will the humor be a little too much for certain people? Yes, but for any fans of the action heroes on screen in this film, it will work.

            It also helps that every actor in the film fully commits to his or her role.  Everyone understands that it is a bit of a joke that they are still even on a big screen in the first place.  Sylvester Stallone does a great job at being the straight men of the bunch.  For being so involved in the creative process, you have to admire that he lets others have the big moments.  Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and (especially) Chuck Norris predictably steal all of the scenes they appear in.  The film is at its best when they are onscreen.  Jason Statham, Jet Li, and (especially) Terry Crews continue to prove they belong onscreen alongside some of the bigger names here, and Dolph Lundgren benefits from better screenwriting for the character this go-around.  Liam Hemsworth is a solid addition to the cast while Jean-Claude Van Damme is able to hold his own against the entire cast as the big bad.  The only ones in the cast that don’t work are Yu Nan (who has no chemistry with Stallone) and Randy Couture (who is instantly forgettable).

            The Expendables 2 ends a disappointing summer with a loud bang.


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