A Wild Ride
John Hillcoat’s Lawless brings the effects of Prohibition vividly to life on screen. From 1920 to 1933, the United States banned the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. As illustrated in Matt Bondurant’s The Wettest County in the World, a novel about his own family’s account of this story (which the film is based upon), Prohibition resulted in some innovative ways for lawbreakers to make good money -- or die trying.
For some, this was an exciting and dangerous time, but a ghastly and perilous way to make a living for others. In the Virginia hills of 1930s, the Bondurant brothers are carrying on the family tradition of running moonshine. Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) have hardened themselves against violence. Yet they have wily ways to outsmart the local and federal agents as well as the mob that wants to take over their turf of delivering moonshine to everyone from old ladies to night clubs.
Naturally, a younger brother might look up to these crass men who answered any problem with a gun. That’s exactly how Jack (Shia LaBeouf) sees the situation. He’s a young boy on the verge of becoming a man, much in the same way LaBeouf is now stepping up to portray more interesting and challenging characters. Jack wants to be like his brothers, but he also wishes to be more like the sadistic Chicago mobster Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), who dresses like a magazine model. LaBeouf nails the dual images of his character.
Jack also picks the most unlikely girl to fall for when he starts courting Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). She’s the daughter of one of the preachers for a guarded Christian sect. Bertha tries to rebuff Jack’s attention, but she’s really intrigued and curious to know what goes on in the world outside her limits. Wasikowska definitely pulls off Bertha’s contrasting elements.
Forrest also gets a woman when a bombshell shows up at their rundown bar wanting a job. It’s not clear why anyone would fine the sad-sack Forrest attractive. He grunts and moans more than he talks and has zero personality without a gun in his hand. Maggie (Jessica Chastain) seems to overlook all this.
While I found the story of Lawless interesting, the plot seemed to stray at times. Until Charlie Rakes enters the picture, it’s also tame. Once Pearce comes on board as this character, the momentum changes. The movie then revs up the action, adventure and violence. Unfortunately, Gary Oldman’s short stint as Chicago mobster Floyd Banner appears trivial and unnecessary.
Viewers interested in this particular era will probably enjoy Lawless. Because the cast is excellent, fans of the film’s actors should also see the movie. Another actor I really enjoyed here is Dane DeHaan as Cricket, a physically disabled kid and wannabe moonshiner totally out of his element.
Moviegoers should also be aware that the plot concerning the Bondurant family is not completely factual. I laughed while hearing a recent LaBeouf interview when he explained that the dangerous and rapid bootlegger getaways just happen to be how NASCAR got started. Hmm.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated "R" for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/ nudity.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.