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Film / Lawless

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"Indestructible? Do you mean immortal? Sheriff, do you have any idea what a Thompson submachine gun will do to 'immortal'?"
Charlie Rakes

Lawless is a 2012 American crime drama film set during the Prohibition era and following the exploits of the Bondurants, a family of bootleggers in rural Virginia. Their steady work of selling moonshine (with the compliance of the local sheriff) is complicated by two things: the arrival of Charley Rakes, a U.S. Marshal working with the corrupt DA who demands a cut of the local bootleggers' profits; and the youngest brother's ambition, which causes them to leave their comfort zone and take bigger risks.

Adapted from the 2008 novel The Wettest Country in the World, written by Matt Bondurant (the grandson and great nephew of the three brothers), the film stars Tom Hardy as Forrest Bondurant, and Jason Clarke and Shia LaBeouf as his brothers Howard and Jack, with Guy Pearce as the Corrupt Cop trying to bring them down. Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor and Gary Oldman round out the cast. It was directed by John Hillcoat, with a screenplay by rock star Nick Cave, and a soundtrack by Cave and his bandmate, Warren Ellis.

Tropes appearing in Lawless:

  • Advertised Extra: Despite being heavily featured in the film's promotional material and receiving third billing in the trailers and posters, Gary Oldman only appears in a few scenes and is billed tenth in the closing credits.
  • Agent Peacock: Rakes presumably thinks of himself as this. He's the only one to do so.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Rakes. He is always immaculately dressed and ostentatiously groomed, and wears some unspecified scent. Calling Jack a "peach" when they first met added to this. All of this leads Jack, and presumably others, to assume Rakes is a "nance." Rakes doesn't take it well when he finds out. It's never confirmed definitively; he is seen getting dressed after presumably spending the night with a black woman, but her obvious distress suggests that whatever he did to her was neither normal nor pleasant.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Played with. Jack's ambition is not a bad thing in itself, but it causes him to do stupid things that nearly ruin them all, so it's more like "Ambition is Stupid if you don't have the competence to pull it off."
  • The Alcoholic: Naturally, nearly everyone drinks in this movie, but Howard deserves special mention. Comes somewhat to a head when he's off in the hills drinking with his buddies instead of backing up Forrest on the night Forrest gets his throat cut. Averted with Forrest himself; see The Teetotaler below.
  • Alcohol Is Gasoline: At one point, Jack and Forrest run out of gas, which they solve by emptying a jar of moonshine into the gas tank. This gets the car up and running.
  • Babies Ever After: Howard, after he cleans himself up.
  • Berserk Button: Rakes doesn't like being called a "nance". He also really, really doesn't like to get dirty.
  • Big Bad: Rakes.
  • Big Brother Instinct: A variation; Forrest and Howard are obviously concerned when Jack gets the crap beaten out of him, but their particular brand of showing it is gently making it clear that he has to be able to fight his own battles.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Guy Pearce does quite a bit of this. He was obviously enjoying himself.
  • Creator Cameo: Nick Cave has one as a gangster getting shot by Floyd.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Jack certainly thinks so when his deal with Chicago gangster Floyd Banner starts making them a lot more money.
  • The Dandy: Rakes is very meticulous about his wardrobe, causing various country folk to imply that he's "a nance." He doesn't take kindly to the insinuation. Jack also starts strutting around in expensive clothes once money starts rolling in.
  • Defiled Forever: Totally averted. Maggie seems to recover completely from her rape, is able to drive Forrest to the hospital immediately after, and starts a sexual relationship with him without any apparent psychological issues. She only starts crying when directly asked about it, and even then she keeps her composure. Forrest, when he suspects that she was raped, goes into clear Tranquil Fury mode, but it is directed entirely against her attackers and he doesn't consider her "damaged goods" in the slightest.
    • On the other side of the spectrum, Rakes. "I'm not the type to drink from a greasy cup."
  • Dirty Cop: Played with; on one end of the spectrum, there's Smug Snake Rakes who embodies every contemptible aspect of this trope. On the other end, there's the local sheriff, who is up to his neck in the moonshine business, but is generally a good guy who sees it as harmless. He does his best to stop Rakes doing too much damage, and is (along with everyone else,) absolutely disgusted when Rakes murders Cricket, and refuses to back Rakes up in the big shootout at the end.
  • The Dragon: Rakes for Mason Wardell, who barely appears in the story.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: In-Universe, the indestructible Forrest is ultimately done in by pneumonia after falling through ice while drunkenly dancing.
  • Genius Cripple: Cricket.
  • Groin Attack: Forrest and Howard express their displeasure with the people who tried to kill Forrest and raped Maggie by killing them and sending their testicles to Rakes in a moonshine jar.
  • Gorn: Several scenes verge on this, particularly when Forrest's anger is roused.
  • Hollywood Healing: Forrest most notably: first he not only survives getting his throat slit, he's then back home within a few days. Later, he takes several gunshot wounds to the torso and is out of the hospital within two weeks. Jack also seems to recover quite quickly from the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown he receives from Rakes. It's played with, though, as the Bondurant boys' invincibility is something of a local legend.
  • Large Ham: Rakes.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Jack wanting to show off to Bertha by showing her their hidden moonshine still was not a good idea.
  • Made of Iron: Forrest was not kidding when he says he's not going to die. He not only survives getting his throat cut, but after getting shot several times at the end, he walks out of hospital after two weeks.
  • Mook Horror Show: Rakes' goons get treated to a short one when Howard starts howling and stalking them through the still.
  • Neck Snap: How Rakes kills Cricket.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: This trailer implies that Floyd Banner is a quite important character as Rake's Dragon, but Banner is actually a very minor character (Gary Oldman has less than ten minutes onscreen) and an ally of the Bondurants. Its also shows Cricket's funeral without saying who died, implying they are those of one of the protagonists - all three are still alive until the very end of the movie, which is set years after the main story.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Jack gets the shit kicked out of him by Rakes in their first meeting. The beatings Forrest doles out tend to be quite quick, but they are really vicious.
  • Non-Action Guy: Jack really isn't all that good in a fight, in contrast to his big brothers.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: How Forrest gets some thugs at the start to lower their guard; he starts spouting some semi-coherent hillbilly wisdom, and when the first one looks at his friends in confusion, he finds out why turning his back on Forrest was a bad idea.
  • Obviously Evil: Rakes is so creepy looking that there's no way he couldn't be a cackling villain.
  • Oh, Crap!: Rakes doesn't seem to be worried by all the county's bootleggers showing up but as soon as Forrest gets back up he freaks out and tries to run away.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Rakes speculates that the Bondurants have "Injun" ancestry because of their "animalistic nature", and shows a generally snooty, dismissive attitude towards country folk in general. In one scene he has an African-American woman sitting on his bed, naked and weeping, which is never explained.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The soundtrack was written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, both of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Cave himself also wrote the screenplay.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Floyd Banner saves the life of Jack and Cricket from his goons, gives them a great fee for their moonshine (whose quality he is impressed with), gives them the address to the creeps who attacked Forrest and finally clobbering with a shovel his mook who almost killed the boys, while roaring that he has enough trouble from the law without starting a needless feud with 'a bunch of hard-ass crackers'.
  • Preacher's Kid: Bertha fits this trope to a tee.
  • Promotion to Parent: Forrest takes over as head of the family after the boys' parents die, and takes his role very seriously. Subverted in that Forrest is the middle child, not the eldest.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: Maggie is the victim of this.
  • Red Right Hand: Rakes has almost no eyebrows, making him look extra creepy. He also apparently smells strange.
  • Revolver Cylinder Spin: After Howard beats the shit out of the sheriff and his deputy when they try to arrest Forrest, Forrest tells them it's not a good idea to come around when Howard's been drinking. He then picks up the sheriffs' revolver, empties it, and gives the cylinder a spin before handing it to the sheriff and telling him to leave.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Repeatedly subverted with Forrest. He's definitely the kind of character who dies, and there are several scenes where you really think this is it for him, but he makes it all the way to the end, where he, ironically, dies nonviolently for no good reason.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The conflict is more or less rendered pointless by the fact that Prohibition is eventually repealed.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Howard fought in World War One and was the only survivor from his unit. One could interpret this as the reason for his alcoholism.
  • Siblings in Crime: Jack, Forrest and Howard.
  • Slashed Throat: Forrest survives getting it cut from ear to ear.
  • Smug Snake: The first time he's seen, it's clear Rakes is this before he even opens his mouth; his stance and expression are more than enough to let you know that he'll be a particularly loathsome example of this. Everything he does through the rest of the film confirms that this first impression was absolutely correct.
    • Jack is another example, even though he's one of the good guys. He is openly disdainful of his brothers' lack of "vision", and his attempt to make a deal with Banner is a textbook case of him overreaching; the fact that he gets out of it in one piece is not due to his own competence, but because of luck. Also, his cavalier attitude to their outlaw lifestyle would be unsurprising from someone who hadn't been beaten to a pulp by a serious criminal and watched his brother narrowly survive getting his throat cut, but such overconfidence from someone who knows what the stakes are is ridiculous.
  • Tar and Feathers: A not-remotely-comical example; one of the bootleggers who refused to submit to Rakes' demands gets graphically covered in boiling tar and delivered to the Bondurants' tavern covered in feathers. The worst part is, he's still alive.
  • The Teetotaler: Forrest, who is never shown drinking save for in the last scene, despite (or perhaps because of) his line of work.
  • The Quiet One: Jack is really the only Boudurant brother who could be considered talkative. Howard seems to avoid conversation as much as possible, and about half of Forrest's lines are grunts.
  • Tranquil Fury: Forrest never shouts, but when he's angry, you really know it.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Rakes has a particularly extravagant one when he finds out that his big-city airs and graces just make the locals think he's a "nance".
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Rakes has it explained to him that simply executing Forrest would cause the whole town to rise up against him.
  • You Have Failed Me: Banner smashes a mook in the head with a shovel for almost getting him involved in a blood feud, but the man turns up alive a few scenes later with a nasty bruise.