Movie Review: ‘Lawless’ triumphs with moonshine to spare

Katie Gile

With an issue that’s recently come back into fame courtesy of the Emmy Award-winning series Boardwalk Empire, Lawless brings bootlegging to the big screen.

Director John Hillcoat’s Lawless, is the fantastic prohibition-era tale of the real-life Bondurant brothers who work their way to local heroism. A marvelous ride in the 1920’s, the film itself is loaded with plenty of poignant moments, gritty gun-slinging and moonshine to spare.

Based on Matt Bondurant’s novel, The Wettest County in the World, screenwriter Nick Cave did a marvelous job in adaptation for the big screen, cleverly establishing character with even the vaguest of gutteral syllables. In fact, the writing, directing and acting is so excellent that the most intriguing character is the one who says the least. Namely, Tom Hardy’s Forrest Bondurant.

This is not to say Shia LaBeouf’s lead character and overall narrator Jack Bondurant wasn’t superbly performed, but I found myself wishing Tom Hardy had scored a few more lines and a lot more screen time. His ability to relate so effortlessly to the world around him onscreen made it impossible to doubt him, which only added to his strength as the soft-spoken but hard-hitting eldest brother. With a performance more about body language, facial expression and tone than witty one-liners, Hardy was impeccable. Though his Southern accent was most often sketchy at best, it never detracted from his intense performance.

Shia LaBeouf turned in an impressive and believably macho performance as youngest brother and wannabe nouveau-riche Jack Bonderant. His frenetic energy, which has proven a hindrance in some roles past was well-directed as this uppity entrepreneur with a small-dog complex. LaBeouf was energetic but focused, intense and emotionally available.

Guy Pearce was creepy, controlling, brutal perfection as the nasty special agent, Charlie Rakes. Trying to weasel his way into profits earned by the Bondurant’s bootlegging business, Rakes finds his advances unwelcome and his assumed power unrecognized. Pearce delivers a well-tuned performance as the pistol-wielding toothless tiger.

The ladies of the film did not disappoint either. Forrest’s eventual love interest Maggie Beaufort was played by Jessica Chastain. Chastain was excellent, presenting Beaufort as a silk-wrapped shotgun, with all the grace and grit one would hope to survive in the rough, southern streets.

Rising star Mia Wasikowska turned in a sterling performance as preacher’s daughter Bertha Minnix. Her quiet power and quirky mild manner were aptly applied as she won the heart of LeBeouf’s Jack. Her subtle, demure approach to Bertha was intelligently performed and made her very interesting to watch.

With a supporting cast including a brief appearance by Oscar winner Gary Oldman, Lawless has just as much bite as bark. No matter how large or small their part, the entire ensemble was stellar as it brought the dusty, dry counties of Georgia to gripping, vivid life.

Suffice it to say, if you’re a fan of historical fiction, stirring subtlety or just amazing acting, this is the fall film for you.

Be advised, Lawless is a depiction of a dangerous time in US history. As such, count on a great deal of blood and violence, some nudity and plenty of profanity.

Altogether though, it was a gorgeous piece of artistically altered history brought to life for the fall season. Give it a shot (pun intended) when you’re ready for a film that grabs hold and won’t let go.

5 stars!!!

email Katie Gile at features@unfspinnaker.com