A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lawless is a dark, history-based drama that's not age appropriate for younger viewers, even though teens of all ages might be drawn in by stars Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf. There's lots of intense, cringe-inducing violence (including bloody scenes of torture, references to rape, and much shooting and brawling) and two scenes of nudity (one is sexual and one is menacing), as well as frequent use of strong language (including "f--k," racial epithets, and more). The themes are mature as well -- the heroes are murderous outlaws and the villains are ruthless dirty cops -- making the story too heavy for most teens.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Based on Matt Bondurant's historical novel The Wettest County in the World, LAWLESS follows the three Bondurant brothers (one of whom was the book author's grandfather), who live in the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia, making and distributing moonshine during Prohibition. There's a legend about the brothers being indestructible: The oldest, Howard (Jason Clarke), was the only soldier to return from his unit in the war, middle brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) survived a bout with the deadly Spanish Flu, and baby brother Jack (Shia La Beouf) wants to be a bigger player in the family business. But the brothers' luck runs out when Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a knavish Chicago special agent, lands in town and warns the brothers to pay their due to the corrupt powers that be ... or get shut down. As expected, the brothers would rather do things their own way, even if that means a bloody feud with those they deem dishonorable.
Is it any good?
This is a gritty, fact-based drama. Australian director John Hillcoat (The Road) has emerged as a specialist in dark, violent stories that explore family relationships under extreme circumstances. Lawless incorporates the dysfunctional sibling relationships from Hillcoat's excellent but ultraviolent 2005 drama The Proposition, but with considerably more loving -- if unaffectionate -- brothers. And what a trio of brothers Hillcoat has cast: LaBeouf may be the top-billed star, but it's really Hardy's Forrest who's the brains of the Bondurant operation (Jack being the heart and Howard the all-too-eager hands). Since appearing in Inception, Hardy has quickly emerged as one of the most effectively intense actors working today, and he outacts LaBeouf despite saying very little (he grunts more than he speaks, and when he does speak, he's usually slurring a Southern drawl).
The women of the drama -- Mia Wasikowska as Bertha, the beautiful but religious girl Jack fancies, and Jessica Chastain as Maggie, a former city girl with an irresistible attraction to the quietly fierce Forrest -- are fantastic but among several underdeveloped characters. There are too many men and too much going on to give all of the subplots enough time to develop (Gary Oldman pops up in a few memorable scenes, but then, poof, he's gone). Like in The Proposition, Lawless is a movie in which arguments are resolved with guns and fists, where the law can be evil (Pearce is practically perfect as the preening psychopath agent), and your blood and your name are ultimately what define you.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way Lawless portrays alcohol and drinking. How did Prohibition affect the inhabitants of Franklin County? Does learning that this movie was based on real brothers make you want to learn more about them and the era of Prohibition?
There are no truly "good" and "bad" characters in this movie. Which characters are the most sympathetic? Does the story glorify criminality? Who are the heroes, and who are the villains?
How is the violence in this movie different than in action movies? Which has more impact, and why?
- In theaters: August 29, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: November 27, 2012
- Cast: Guy Pearce, Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy
- Director: John Hillcoat
- Studio: Weinstein Co.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, History
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong, bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.