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MOVIE REVIEW: Lawless

Violent and beautiful, the film enthralls with superior performances, strong stark visuals, and a solid story. The brothers may be outlaws, but sometimes law needs to be taken into one's own hands.

The Good Fight

RATED: ★ ★ ★ ★ buckets | WORTH: Matinee or DVD

Rated: R  Some sexuality/nudity, language and strong bloody violence

Release Date: August 29, 2012
Runtime:  1 hour 55 minutes 

Director: John Hillcoat
Writers: Nick Cave, from the novel by Matt Bondurant
Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Gary Oldman 

SYNOPSIS:  In 1931 Depression-era Prohibition Franklin County, three bootlegging brothers' business is threatened by a new special deputy targeting moonshining operations in the hills of Virginia.

REVIEW: Director John Hillcoat, known for the bleak apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road, return with another adaptation from multi-talented Nick Cave (The Proposition) based on the novel 'The Wettest County in the World' by Matt Bondurant. Looking at Depression moonshining based on the actual lives of three real-life brothers should make for fine drama.  
In 1931 Franklin County, Virginia, three brothers make their living distilling 'White Lightning' moonshine in the rural foothills. Led by Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises), a man who cheated and overcame death in both the Great War and a bout of fever that took the lives of both of the brothers' parents, he remains a quiet but stern businessman of the local alcohol trade. Older bear of a brother Howard (Jason Clarke, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) like the product a little too much but is devoted to his brethren. Younger brother and runt of the litter Jack (Shia Lebeouf, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) looks to follow in his brother's footsteps but lacks the stature and intestinal fortitude to do what sometimes must be done. Operating without problems from the local constables, the Bondurant brothers suddenly find themselves up against sterner authorities in the guise of special deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce, Lockout) who looks to shut down all of the stills operating in the back wood Virginia hillside. Unwilling to back down, the Bondurant clan continue to distill the illegal alcohol while the other moonshiners are bought out or run out. While Forrest deals with keeping what he has, Jack starts running his own part of the business and making enough money to buy fancy cars and clothes, and try to woe the beautiful daughter of a town minister named Bertha (Jessica Chastain, The Help).

What could have been just another drawn out early 20th Century period drama, turns into a gripping character-driven tale of loyalty, power, and love. With great performances by Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, and the rest of the cast, plus a phenomenal story from Nick Cave from the Matt Bondurant, Lawless will entertain and enthrall.

At the end of the second decade of the Twentieth Century, the United States government decides that the ills of the country were due to the evils of alcoholic spirits, passing the Amendment to the Constitution for Prohibition. As the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression tore through the country, those with the strength of character and convictions were able to remain or become successful in spite, and because, of the decisions of the government. Bootlegging and moonshining became the cornerstone of prosperity for both those who produced the spirits and those who sold them, and survival for those who consumed them.

Taking place in the the hills of Virginia, the opening shot pans over the luscious orange, red, and golds tree tops of the forests of the commonwealth. An old Ford truck rumbles down a single lane dirt road and Shia LeBeouf's character Jack sits behind the wheel of the old jalopy filled with White Lightning. In voice-over, Jack describes his brothers and the business they share. As they travel through the county, selling crates of mason jars filled with moonshine to both the locals and the local constables, we get a glimpse that maybe selling moonshine during Prohibition is not as illegal and detrimental to the country's morals as it was supposed to be. The cinematography is sweeping and gorgeous, adding a beauty to a story that at times is bloody and hard.

The performances are exceptional. Tom Hardy's Forrest Bondurant is both eloquent and quiet, saying more with a clenched-jaw stare and a 'hmmm' than long monologues. Shia's Jack, the center of the story in some regard, shows he carry himself with characters other than talking robots. Guy Pearce, as the special deputy Charlie Rakes appointed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, presents his character as a Chicago operative who fancies the finer things in life, has a perchance for wearing gloves, and has no problem getting his hands dirty. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska bring a softness and maturnal climate to the brother's, Jessica as the minister's daughter that Jack tries to woe and Mia as the displaced Chicago showgirl who just wants to find a more quiet life. Dane Dehaan stumbles through life as the Bondurant Brothers' mechanic and gimpy boy Cricket with a heart of gold. And Gary Oldman cameos as the crime boss Floyd Banner, both friend and foe to the back-woods bootleggers.

Lawless is a fine period drama, corner stoned by superior performances by everyone on the cast, strong stark visuals, and a solid story. Violent and beautiful, Lawless entertains and enthralls. The brothers may be outlaws, but their loyalty to each other is beyond the rules.

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