Movie Review: Lawless

Prohibition films seem to be as common in Hollywood as movies based in the Civil War, World War 2, Vietnam and the Middle Ages. This is an era Hollywood likes to return to. “Boardwalk Empire” has been carrying on our fascination with the period with two great seasons under it’s belt.

Many of these projects focus on famous gangsters, like Al Capone, who made a fortune when the US Government made alcohol illegal. A whole new society was built around the smuggling and acquiring of alcoholic substances. The era lasted only 13 years but organized crime made a killing.

Within that era, three brothers tried to carve out their own fortunes in Virginia’s Franklin County. Dubbed “The Wettest County”, Franklin became legendary for bootleggers.

The Bondurant Brothers were the main source for these legends. Headed by Forest Bondurant (Tom Hardy), the brothers not only shipped alcohol to everyone in their county but also even traveled across State lines.

Their booming business caught the eye of the FBI and Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) was called in to take the brothers down.

Forest, middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke) and runt Jack (Shia LeBeouf) have to stand up to the very vicious Rakes who swears to bring them down by any means necessary. They not only have pitbull Rakes after them but rival gangsters as well.

Forest told Jack one day that the family was “invincible” if they stuck together and they could never die. Forest, so the legend says, walked from him house to a hospital with a slit throat. He was also shot four times and lived. These incredible legends just accented the incredible story of the Bondurants of Franklin County.

Director John Hillcoat is famous for his unapologetic directing style. If a scene is gruesome, unholy and raw, Hillcoat is gonna show it to you that way. His previous films “The Proposition” and “The Road” showcased desperate and flawed heroes just trying to survive.

Hillcoat lifts the curtain just a tad with “Lawless”. His brutality of the fight scenes and what one man can do to another with a knife is raw and to the point.

But his shocking scenes coupled with very tender scenes between the two leads and their love interests really show the contrast of the times.

This was a family of brothers who were just trying to survive in a world gone to hell. They were trying to protect what was theirs.

There’s one scene in the film where Shia tracks down his two older brothers to a house where they enacting vengeance upon some rivals. The scene looked like it was ripped out of a serial killer movie.

I found the scene so off putting that I had a hard time seeing Hardy’s character as sympathetic. I think Hillcoat went to far with the scene. If it wasn’t for Jessica Chastain’s affection for Hardy’s character, I would have never been able to sympathize with the brothers in the third act.

You have another dynamite performance of Tom Hardy. Shia LeBeouf is still playing his same stumbling innocent guy that gets in over his head. (ala Disturbia) Jason Clarke was extremely good in Showtime’s Brotherhood and it is nice to see the actor getting more face time. Chastain is one of the best new actresses to come around in a while and here she embraces the mysteries surrounding her character. Wish we got to know more. Gary Oldman looks like he is having a blast playing unstable gangster Floyd Banner.

Probably the best performance of this ensemble is Guy Pearce’s really creepy Special Agent Charlie Rakes. How brutal, psychotic and unpredictable his character is kind of reminds me of the Joker. This movie marks Pearce’s third film with John Hillcoat. Pearce’s performances keep getting better and so do Hillcoat’s films.

This is a brilliant, raw, brutal and intelligent depiction of Prohibition and Hillcoat was born to make this film. It’s surely is one of the best of the year.

4.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer

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