drives up prices. Just ask bootleggers
like the Bondurant Brothers. The folk
hero moonshiners had an intuitive grasp of economic principles sorely lacking
in Washington today. They also produced
good home brew. However, they were not
the types to knuckle under when a corrupt lawman from Chicago tries to muscle
in on their operation. Since it is war
he wants, the Bondurant Boys will give him one in John Hillcoat’s Lawless (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York.
on Matt Bondurant’s fictionalized novel about his prohibition defying forebears
(colorfully titled The Wettest County in
the World, as Hillcoat’s film was also known prior to its current bland moniker),
Lawless transports viewers back to a
time when nearly everyone in Franklin County, Virginia was involved in the
illicit booze trade, one way or another.
That is western Virginia, not West Virginia, but you get the idea. Liquor runs freely around these parts and
nobody dares to bother to Bondurant Boys, until now.
the eldest brother Forrest and middle brother Howard should have been dead long
before the film opened. Their knack for
cheating death gave rise to the myth of Bondurant invincibility—a legend they
start to believe. As a result, when the
highly connected Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (from Chicago, the nation’s
leading producer of crooked, power-hungry government officials) announces the
terms of his protection racket, the Bondurants will not play ball. Conflict is inevitable, but the expansionist
schemes of the youngest Bondurant Brother Jack only escalate the
situation. To make matters worse, the Bondurant
whippersnapper’s attention is divided between business and wooing the skeptical
daughter of the local Mennonite clergyman.
surprisingly, Tom Hardy is kind of awesome as the hardnosed Forrest Bondurant
and Shia LaBeouf is kind of not as the immature Jack. Though probably every groupthinking critic
will dub the former “Bane the Bootlegger” there is something electrically
charismatic about Hardy’s gruff, grunting Bondurant. He hardly speaks in complete sentences,
except when passing Biblical judgment on a rival, like Jules in Pulp Fiction, but he makes every
guttural word count. LaBeouf’s Bondurant
is a different matter, truly looking like a boy among men. It is hard to believe his brothers would let
him drive the car to the store, let alone acquiesce to his reckless
Lawless works best when
focusing on its larger than life characters, like Brother Forest. While Guy Pearce has played a fair number of workaday
villains in recent years, he finally gets it right here, oozing clammy evil as
well coifed sadist, Rakes. Making the
most of a near cameo role, Gary Oldman also brings a blast of energy to the
film as big city gangster Floyd Banner.
While it is not nearly as showy a part, Jessica Chastain still takes a
solid turn as Maggie Beauford, Forrest’s potential love interest with a scandalous
past. In fact, the rich, cinematic
ensemble easily carries Lawless, overcoming
its weak lead.
a conclusive laboratory experiment, Lawless
proves Hardy, Pearce, and Oldman are movie stars, but LaBeouf is not. Hillcoat also demonstrates a firm command of
period shootouts and nicely suggests but never overplays the tall tale flavor
of the Bondurant legend. Consistently vigorous
and entertaining, Lawless is
ultimately a very good Prohibition action-drama, easily recommended for Bane
fans and those intrigued by the era when it opens this Wednesday (8/29) in New
York at the Regal Union Square and AMC Kips Bay.
Labels: Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Prohibition, Tom Hardy