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‘Lawless’ goes down smooth

Article Published: Sep. 6, 2012 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2012
‘Lawless’ goes down smooth

Tom Hardy stars in ‘Lawless.’

Like a stout moonshine, “Lawless” might not taste the best, but it goes down smooth enough.

This entertaining bootlegging tale offers more style than substance, presenting an average adaptation of a fascinating true story in a grandiose scope it just can’t fill.

Thoughtfully directed by John Hillcoat (“The Road”) and beautifully shot by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”), “Lawless” is one of those films where the setting is a character.

Set in the sepia South of 1930s Virginia, its richly atmospheric scenery, coupled with some outstanding performances, make it one of the more immersive movies of its ilk.

Based on the book, “The Wettest County in the World,” by Matt Bondurant, “Lawless” is the story of Bondurant’s ancestors – a legendary trio of bootlegging brothers who distilled success (and a fair share of danger) in the mountains of Franklin County, Va., during Prohibition.

In 1931, the Bondurant brothers – stoic, no-nonsense Forrest (Tom Hardy, “The Dark Knight Rises”), brawny roughhouser Howard (Jason Clarke, “Public Enemies”) and green, wants-to-do-more Jack (Shia LaBeouf, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) – are living the life.

On the front side, they run a service station and roadhouse. Behind the scenes, they craft moonshine and transport it throughout the county and beyond, with a little help from amiably crooked law enforcement. The brothers are seen as county heroes – until the Commonwealth gets greedy for a larger piece of the action.

A sadistic, city-bred agent, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce, “The Road”), is sent to Franklin County to serve as a special deputy to keep the moonshiners in line, while ensuring the government gets its due of profits.

While the other ’shiners cave to the pressure, the Bondurant brothers refuse, invoking Rakes’ wrath at the peril of all they hold dear, including their new waitress, Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain, “The Tree of Life”).

But as the situation escalates, Jack wants to play a larger role in the operation and risks everything to strike a deal with notorious gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”). Even more dangerously, he’s attempting to court the daughter (Mia Wasikowska, “Alice in Wonderland”) of a stern Mennonite preacher (Alex Van, “The Crazies”).

Needless to say – and to use just one more moonshine reference – everything comes to a boil.

The story, adapted by writer and musician Nick Cave (“The Proposition”) meanders, shifting focus from Forrest to Jack, but never giving us a character to truly root for. The audience knows who the good guys are, but we’re never given sufficient reason as to why. The performers, however, go above and beyond in their roles, particularly Hardy and Pearce, the latter of which could easily earn “Villain of the Year,” based on his terrifying hair part alone.

It might be short on character, but “Lawless” is overflowing with mood – a period peace with teeth, which it’s not afraid to bare.

“Lawless,” rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

For show times, see page 13-B or visit

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