In the hills of Franklin County, Virginia during Prohibition, a trio of brothers distill moonshine in the woods and smuggle it into the big city and sell it to organized crime. When a new special deputy is appointed for the area, things begin to get heated. Violence and drama ensue as the brothers struggle against the law and try to romance the ladies, all in the course of trying to build their white lightning empire.

It’s a pretty basic story, but all of the performers do a pretty admirable job, and the combination of period piece and gangster element is always a plus in my book. “Lawless” is no threat to make my Top Ten this year, by any means, but it did wind up a surprisingly entertaining time at the movies for me.

“Lawless” is the story of the Bondurant brothers. Apparently, it has some basis in fact. It’s based on a 2008 novel (“The Wettest County in the World”) about the author’s grandfather and great-uncles who were actual Prohibition-era bootleggers.

Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard (Jason Clarke) run a still or two in the hills and sell jars and crates of jars to locals from the back of their pick-up truck. They’re relatively small time, in fact, everyone in the county seems to be distilling. They all get along well with the local law, who are happy to look the other way. Forrest is the leader of the brothers. He’s strong and sullen, and such an intimidating force that no one wants to cross him. Howard is a bit of a crazy, loose cannon, while Jack is the runt of the litter, but smart, and ambitious. The trio is backed by Cricket Pane (Dane DeHaan), who suffered rickets as a child and is a bit gimpy as a result, but he’s a whiz with machinery. He’s able to give the Bondurants an edge in the business by crafting them advanced stills and souping up their car engines.

When a slick, sadistic new special deputy is appointed for the area (Guy Pearce), the Bondurants are alone amongst the county’s moonshiners in refusing to pay the extortion money he demands. This leads the deputy to flex his muscle, causing all sorts of harm to the trio and the ones they love. In a moment of retaliatory anger, Jack loads up an entire truck full of their top-notch stuff and drives into the city to a known killer and gangster  Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). His bravery almost gets him killed, but results ultimately in a huge score and a new connection that takes the Bondurant moonshining operation to an entirely new level. 

War with the law looms.

Threatening to get caught in the crossfire are the two romantic interests for the brothers; a stripper who moved to the country in order to get away from her former life (Jessica Chastain) and a preacher’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska). Forrest begins to get protective of the ex-showgirl after she takes a job at the family saloon, and Jack pursues his girl right into church. Neither are the most intriguing romances you’ll ever see, and there may be times when I questioned each of them, but they’re not the worst diversions from the main story I’ve ever seen or anything, either.

The performances across the board here are solid, if unspectacular. I’ll call out Guy Pearce for special mention, as, even if he didn’t do anything particularly special acting-wise, his character is a memorable one, with his plucked eyebrows, greased back hair and fancy suits. I also have to give some credit to Shia LaBeouf here. This was the first role of his I’ve ever caught where I wasn’t actively hating on him. He was pretty decent. Hardy fans will be relatively pleased. He’s got more to offer then this… the character spends the entire movie with a scowl on his face, but still, Hardy plays big and burly better than anyone out there. Chastain and Wasikowska each bring more to the roles than the script gives them. They’re both talented, and though this wont be either of their best roles, they certainly didn’t disgrace themselves or let their fans down.

Oldman’s role is barely more than a cameo.

The story they all come together to put on for us is a fun one. It has shades of all kinds of gangster movies we’ve seen before, certainly. But the stills in the hills element is certainly a new one to me, and that was enough to provide a refreshing twist. The production does a good job of recreating the look and feel of the “sticks” of the 1920s. The period piece factor is working in the movie’s favor, as is the natural beauty of the setting. Once you’re there, an extended game of cobs and robbers unfolds, with lots of mob movie style beatings, shootouts, messages via body parts, etc. It all builds to a worthy, cathartic final confrontation.  

Combined with the fact that you have such a loaded ensemble cast, “Lawless” makes for a solidly entertaining, albeit not overly remarkable movie


38 thoughts on “Lawless

    • Thanks Terry. It still wasn’t the greatest movie or anything, but I have to admit I enjoyed myself well enough. It didnt have many plot holes or things I took issue with or anything, and this cast is definitely a watchable group. So yeah, check it out, I’ll look forward to your review when you post it up!

  1. Great review! Man, I wish they stopped hiring Shia whatever he can’t act and whenever I come across stuff he says in interviews I just feel sorry for him being that stupid and delusional.

    Apparantly he is in new Von Trier’s movie, who on Earth would like to see this guy having sex? :/

    • Ohhhh godddd… seriously. I just cringed just getting reminded of that. LOL

      He wasnt awful here, though. I have to be fair. Probably because he had a decent script and a much better director.

      Although, I hated him in Wall Street 2, and that was Oliver Stone, so… Hm.

  2. Glad to hear this is a decent enough film. I should enjoy this however I view it – theater or rental. Nice to hear Shia carried his own in this flick; guess a good script helps quite a bit. The powerhouse cast couldn’t have hurt either. Is Pearce coming into his own this year or just finally getting some decent scripts too? I enjoyed his earlier sci-fi romp Lockout formulaic though it is. Solid post.

    • LOL. If you enjoyed “Lockout” (and I did too for what it was worth), then you’ll do fine with this buddy.

      Pearce has always been good, I dont know what happened to him, I may have to investigate. He definitely went MIA for awhile. Between this, Lockout and Prometheus, though, he’s definitely mid-renaissance.

      This was fun enough. It’s not too heavy, not too light. Entertaining, enjoyable, forgettable. But a decent watch. Check it out!

      • I caught up to Lawless, and I really enjoyed this one; entertaining and Hardy was at the top of his game even just playing a tough moonshiner sans British accent – well done Hardy. Nothing too complicated just good shoot em up, moonshinin’ fun as you mentioned. Chastain was a little, ahem, surprising 😉 but good supporting role.

      • HAHAHAHHAHA!! Chastain was… surprising, want she? LOL. That was funny shit man. I’m cracking up over here. 😀

        It’s no threat in a million years to make this year’s top ten or anything, but people could do worse than it if they’re checking it out on PPV or cable or rental or whatever.

        Thanks for circling back to it.

  3. Checking this out tomorrow although I fear it will likely be a “meh, it was alright” type of movie that I have been complaining about as of late… Glad you enjoyed it for what it was Fogs 😀

  4. I was kinda anticipating this but I decided it might be too violent for me to see on the big screen so I chose an indie movie instead. I will rent it though, probably it’s only worth a rental anyway. Too bad Gary Oldman was underutilized here.

  5. Even though I got a “so-so” vibe from you review, I still can’t wait to see this. Hardy, Pearce, and Oldman all together? Count me in:) And I haven’t seen a movie set in this time in…probably forever! So I’m curious to see how Hollywood can present this kind of culture.

    • It was kind of so-so, Livi, but I’d put it more on the “plus So” side of that see-saw than the “negative So” side. LOL.

      Oldman’s not in it much, but Pearce really sells out. 😀 Wait’ll you see him. I’m kind of chuckling just thinking about it.

      It was enjoyable enough… I think if you keep your expectations right sized going in, you’re going to be ok, here. 😉

    • Hasn’t been the greatest year for movies as of yet.

      My top ten is WIDE OPEN. Literally. I have… 8 spots up for grabs. That’s crazy. CRAZY. Thankfully we still have a ton of freaking awesome looking movies still lined up. 2012 will represent.

      Give it time, give it time 😀

  6. I’m finally getting around to read reviews since mine was finally done, and I’m finding that most all feel the same way; the movie wasn’t great, but was good enough to be enjoyable based on the performances.

    I wish I could add more to what you already said Fogs, but I think you pretty much summed it up accurately. I will say that I felt misled by the trailers and poster with regards to Gary Oldman.

    I really hope we start getting more Guy Pearce, because I find him to be really good in practically every thing I see him in.

    As always Fogs, great review!

    • Thanks Joe! I’ll swing by and read what you had to say in a bit…

      This movie definitely seems to have a consensus opinion about it – “Decent” 😀 At least everyone agrees.

      You’re right about Oldman though, that role is a glorified cameo….

  7. Solid review sir and I agree with your comments. The movie was good but it tried to be more than it should be, I felt like they were trying to make a Hillbilly Godfather at times. Tom Hardy was solid as always and it’s worth seeing.R.I.P to my many Crickett..nice post!

  8. I wasn’t all too impressed by this film. Great performances. It looks great with its visuals and sets. The music and score is so on the nose. But the story and pacing just left me feeling a bit meh. Nothing truly happens.

Join in the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s