Lawless is the type of movie that you won’t know was shallow until the end. It’s murky, entertaining, and provocative throughout. I kept getting the feeling the film was going somewhere important. It just needed to build a few more pieces. Progress a few more relationships. When the end hits, I was left thinking “is that all?”.*
The moonshine business and wild west feel of prohibition are invitations for men to form their own rules about everything. The arbiter of all is Violence. Men’s reputations are made on it. It safeguards their land and livelihood. Men get women with displays of their master of it. Even a character as adverse to all expression of the form, like Jack (Shia LeBeouf), is compelled instinctually to, at least, fake it till he finally commits.
Beyond the rewards from its use, Violence is left as a scale. Success is directly correlated to “how far” a man takes Violence. That limit appears set at birth. The primal draw of its power is intuitively understood and not questioned. But that’s like saying “Hey Guy! Remember how you’re human. And we’re human!”. A reflection of what I already know isn’t interesting.
The narrative sings the first few notes of such a well-known song, the rest of the story will flash through your head in an instant. The struggle of one man coming to grips with Violence seems silly in this context. Nearly every single other male in the entire film is better apt and more comfortable with Violence. The scale comes in again to insinuate that maturity level also directly correlates to Violence. Consequences of any particular violent act has nothing to do with morals or honor and all to do with the ripple effect. “Who will this piss off? Can I kill the man who comes after me if I kill this guy?”.
Maggie (Jessica Chastain) alone is able to break this fixation on Violence (tell-tale, she wears red). Whether because of exhaustion (somewhere between coping with and ignoring Violence), fear , or a stronger will than to be defined by it is unclear.
* - Punctuation bends to my will