We control the fear, you understand? Without the fear, we are all good as dead. Acclaimed director John Hillcoat (THE ROAD, THE PROPOSITION) delivers a thrillingly vivid slice of American outlaw history in his epic gangster tale, LAWLESS. LAWLESS is the true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: three bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. Based on author Matt Bondurant’s fictionalized account of his family, “The Wettest County in the World,” the film gathers an ensemble of gifted, dynamic new-generation stars – Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan – alongside two of the finest actors of their generations, Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman. A riveting, intense story of crime and corruption, loyalty and love, brutality and tenderness, LAWLESS is a rich addition to the American gangster canon. In the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia, the Bondurant brothers are the stuff of legend. The eldest, Howard (Jason Clarke), managed to survive the carnage of the Great War, but he returned home unmoored by what he had seen and done. His brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) nearly died from the Spanish Flu that took his parents. He beat back death with a quiet strength and ferocious, visceral invincibility that came to define him. Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest sibling, impressionable, sensitive, smart. Times are tough and jobs are scarce, but the Bondurants are entrepreneurs and have built a thriving local business by concocting an intense and popular brand of moonshine. But Franklin County’s bootlegging days are about to end with the arrival of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) from Chicago. The new “law” Rakes brings is lethal and corrupt and will challenge everything the brothers have built and represent. But while the rest of the county gives in to Rakes’ ruthless crackdown, the Bondurants will bow to no one. As the family rallies to fight Rakes, the fraternal dynamic shifts. Jack’s ambitions and enterprises alter the balance of power between the brothers as he careens into manhood. Dreaming of expensive suits, fast cars and beautiful women, Jack starts his own bootlegging operation, with his friend Cricket (Dane DeHaan) helping him to soup up cars and build stills – even against Forrest’s wishes. Jack starts to prosper, even selling his moonshine to Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), the big city gangster he idolizes. The lives of the Bondurants are soon complicated by the appearance of two beautiful women: the exotic, steadfast Maggie (Jessica Chastain), who brings a secret past with her and catches the eye of the guarded Forrest - and the quiet, pious Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), who slowly warms to Jack’s charms and channels her own rebellious streak. Jack’s confidence however soon trumps his good sense, and the consequences will test the brothers’ loyalty and endangers them all. Determined to do whatever is necessary to fight for what is theirs, the Bondurants take up arms and confront the corrupt forces of the law in a faceoff to determine who controls the wettest county in the world.
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Lawless Theatrical Review
Totally out of control, the Bondurant brothers were a part of history that could only have been called Lawless. The movie that opens today builds on the almost true story of bootleggers in Virginia from a recollection by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of one of the three main characters. Lawless ‘shines' in all departments including acting, script, direction and production value. For those who like gritty action filled films, this creative crime story should not be missed.
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The story involves the notorious Bondurant Brothers who live in the hills of Virginia and make their livelihood producing and selling moonshine whisky. Now at the height of prohibition, the mountainous homes are strongholds against the feds who have been slowly infiltrating the area. Still on top of their game, Howard (Jason Clarke) the eldest of the three brothers manages the business and calls all the shots. His brother, tough hardheaded Forrest (Tom Hardy), makes sure that no one harms the family.
Amidst all this toughness, youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) learns the ways of the hillbilly lifestyle and aspires to get more involved, possibly taking over the business one day. He's smart yet easily influenced, but can hold his own in a fight or debate over family matters. Jack's one weakness is his eye for the ladies and he has set his sights on the preacher's daughter Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). After making headway of sorts with Bertha, Jack decides that she's the one with which he'll start his own family. When the Franklin County Police are assigned Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) from Chicago, a no-nonsense lawman hell bent on bringing the Boundurants to justice, things start unraveling for the hill people.
Lawless has the perfect cast for the film. Tough yet good-looking faces of Clarke, Hardy and LaBeouf are the basis of the clan. Their characters are out of control, determined and invincible letting nothing stand in their way. Clarke plays brother Howard with a slight aloofness believing he's indestructible and runs the family with one motto "We control the fear…without the fear, we are all good as dead".
Brother Forrest played aptly by Hardy backs up the eldest and will defend the honor of the family even if it means facing his own death. Hardy makes his character tough and rowdy facing down anyone who may even look like they may harm a Bondurant. For the youngest brother LaBeouf creates Jack as a learner, a boy who looks up to his older brothers waiting for his chance to lead. An important character, Jack's the one who represents loyalty and courage when the chips are down. His smart mind sees around trouble, but under the spell of Bertha no one stands in his way of achieving that goal even if it may hurt everyone involved.
But the best performance in the film comes from Guy Pierce as the bizarre lawman with an insidious determination to bring the Boundurants to justice even if it means killing county police who may get in his way. The brilliant performance had me cringing during some death-defying standoffs and wincing with his torturous ways. He's my ‘bad guy' of the year as far as acting goes.
Lawless director John Hillcoat (The Road) produces a perfect movie injecting all the right measures to motivate his audience into believing what they see is realistic enough to convince. He sets up his characters making them likeable although criminal, inventive yet destructive, and lovable although brutal. They represent loyalty and family trying to carve out a livelihood passed on by their fathers before them and Hillcoat makes it work in his favor.
The movie has been rated R by the MPAA for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. The special effects make the brutality seem real and sickening at times, so if you are even a bit timid Lawless may not be your cup of white lightning.
FINAL ANALYSIS: An excellent crime action film with fine acting and direction. (A)
-- John Delia
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