Set in the Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by authorities who want a cut of their profits.
Adapted from the novel "The Wettest County in the World" by Matt Bondurant. Available on Kindle
, Used on Alibris
, or at the iBookstore
is the based-on-a-true story of the Bondurant Brothers, a trio of moonshiners and bootleggers in Prohibition-era Virginia. Forrest (Tom Hardy from The Dark Knight Rises
) is the brains behind the operation, the leader and shot-caller of the gang. Howard (Public Enemies
' Jason Clarke) is the muscle, saying more with his fists and guns than with his words. Jack (Shia LaBeouf from the Transformers
movies) is the youngest Bondurant brother, eager to learn the family trade but seemingly much too sensitive for the work. In the beginning, the Bondurants have a pretty good thing going, with local law enforcement on their payroll, but when a new deputy named Charlie Rakes (Memento
's Guy Pearce) arrives in town demanding a bigger cut, Forrest and the boys take offense. Rakes makes it his personal mission to shut the Bondurant operation down and Jack, eager to prove himself, tries to align himself and his brothers with a known Chicago mobster named Floyd Banner (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
's Gary Oldman) in an attempt to thwart Rakes. There's little honor amongst thieves as the Bondurants are tasked with figuring out who they can trust.
Directed by Australian hot-shot John Hillcoat (The Road
was adapted for the screen by Nick Cave (the musician from The Bad Seeds
, who also wrote the script for Hillcoat's The Proposition
) from the novel "The Wettest County in the World" by Matt Bondurant (yes, one of those Bondurants, the grandson of Jack to be precise). It's unclear how much of the story actually occurred, but an air of realism and authenticity flows throughout the entire film. The script is a well written, if at times a bit uneven, treatment of a fascinating time in the history of the country. Lawless
has the look and feel of an indie art film, yet goes Hollywood with the inclusion of a couple of sweet love stories, Forrest with a barmaid named Maggie (The Help
's Jessica Chastain) and Jack with a Mennonite preacher's daughter named Bertha (Mia Wasikowska from Alice in Wonderland
), that seem superfluous until the third act when everything ties together. A cross between an action-packed drama and a character-driven thriller, Lawless
may take a few minutes to get rolling, but once it does, it does not disappoint.
Like all good crime films, the heroes in Lawless
are the criminals and the villains are the cops. The anti-heroes are much more likable than the folks who are trying to bring them to justice, and since everyone knows what a silly law Prohibition was, the viewer can't help but root for the Bondurants in the same way that they root for Bonnie and Clyde, Mickey and Mallory, Tony Montana and Patrick Bateman. The charismatic Bondurants are far more fun to watch, therefore making them much better protagonists than the arrogant Charlie Rakes, effectively putting them in the moral right in the audience's eyes. Lawless
keeps with the outlaw hero formula that accompanies the greats, setting it up to become an instant classic of the true-crime genre.
In any good period film, music is an important element. The soundtrack for Lawless was mostly written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (the same pair who scored Hillcoat's The Road and The Proposition, as well as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), and the majority of the songs are fairly spot-on for the time period. The bulk of the songs were recorded by Cave, Ellis and a handful of other musicians going by the appropriate name The Bootleggers, joined by vocalists ranging from Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan to country music legend Emmylou Harris. There is a somewhat modern stamp on the traditional music, with a Bootleggers version of a Link Wray song ("Fire and Brimstone") and not one but two versions of The Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat," one by The Bootleggers with Lanegan and one by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. There are a couple of instances where non-diegetic songs momentarily break the suspension of disbelief by sounding a little too modern for the period but, for the most part, the soundtrack songs add authenticity to the depression-era feel of Lawless.