Article Published: Sep. 6, 2012 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2012
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
“Lawless,” rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some
sexuality/nudity, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.