“Lawless” a prohibition-era true story about three bootlegging brothers is a visually compelling and superbly acted film derived from Matt Bondurant’s 2008 family novel “The Wettest County in the World.”
Set in the 1930s Virginia backwoods, brothers Forrest, Howard and Jack Bondurant produce a highly intoxicating brand of moonshine, White Lightning, and sell their wares unopposed throughout Virginia and across state lines. That is until federal agent Charley Rakes, a ridiculously good Guy Pearce, makes his way from the tough streets of Chicago and wants a cut from the booming bootlegging business.
Rakes’ brutal ways quickly subdue the county’s local brewers, of course with the exception of the Bondurant brothers led by Forrest (Tom Hardy). Local lore has it that the Bondurants are indestructible, which really peeves Rakes, who is hell-bent on destroying Forrest and his family business.
Throughout the film, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest brother, provides a narrative which gives context to Hardy’s timely and often hilarious grunts and an amusing secondary story of Jack’s courting of a local preacher’s daughter, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). Though I’m not a big fan of LaBeouf, he’s perfectly cast as Jack who is obviously the family runt and not really physically or psychologically adept at being a bootlegging gangster, although he certainly tries.
The film, however, wouldn’t be the same without Hardy. My fiancé has already accused me of having a man crush, but he’s truly one of Hollywood’s best actors. His presence radiates from the screen, and he steals every scene he’s in, even though in this film his character is a man of few words – his body language and timely grunts perfectly portray a man who demands respect. Jessica Chastain (Maggie), Gary Oldman (Floyd Banner), and Jason Clarke (Howard Bondurant) all expertly portray their characters – providing the film with more depth.
The Bondurant brothers’ insistence to operate as they always have eventually leads to an all-out and rather gruesome war against Rakes and his half-hearted cohorts – local law enforcement officials. A game of brutal cat and mouse leaves many casualties and ends with an intense shootout – I won’t ruin the ending. Along the way, the viewer comes to believe that Forrest may in fact be indestructible, as he and Howard take their revenge on those who crossed them.
Jack meanwhile, after being brutally introduced to Rakes, vows to become more adept at the family business and begins excelling at slinging moonshine after allying with Floyd Banner. He becomes cocky, which has far reaching affects, and looks ridiculous as he dons gangster clothing and “pimps out” his ride – his character is as silly as LaBeouf acting.
“Lawless” probably won’t receive any Oscar nominations, but sooner or later Hardy will need to be recognized for his incredible acting. Though I rarely watch a film more than once, I would certainly watch “Lawless” again. However, the movie is one of the more violent rated R films I’ve ever watched, so those with queasy stomachs may want to catch “Paranorman” instead. Even I squirmed a few times, and my guest had her hands covering her face for the majority of the movie.
4 stars out of 5
“Lawless” is rated R for strong bloody violence, language, sexuality and nudity.