Lawless ~ A Capsule Movie Review

~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

During the lawless days of Prohibition (1918-1933), the illegal liquor trade took off in the United States. Enterprising “businessmen” learned there was much money to be made from the illegal making and selling of the liquor that the public demanded and couldn’t buy legally. The new movie Lawless is the partly true story of the Bondurant brothers (Forrest, Howard and Jack), who thrived as bootleggers for a time during the early 1930s in a rural community in Virginia.

Jack Bondurant (Shia Laboeuf) is the youngest brother. The story is told mostly through his eyes. He is a little too sensitive for the line of work he’s in. The brains of the operation is the oldest brother, Forrest (Tom Hardy), who is tough as nails and knows how to deal with the competition and with the forces of the law that are trying to put him down. A sort of legend grows up around the Bondurant brothers that they are invincible, mostly because of the toughness and tenacity of Forrest Bondurant. When Forrest’s throat is cut, a horrible injury that he survives, Jack is forced to develop some toughness of his own. When their bootlegging business is thriving, they are producing a thousand gallons of bootleg whiskey a week. Jack Bondurant, during this time, develops a penchant for clothes and cars and courts a reluctant minister’s daughter named Bertha Minnix (love that name) whose father would gladly kill him if given the chance.

The law is represented by one Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a creepy (for some reason he has no eyebrows) “special agent” from the city who dresses in a dapper manner and wears perfume. He is sent to Virginia to quell the bootlegging industry there and has a very condescending manner toward the locals. At one point he declares, “these hillbillies are a sideshow unto themselves.” When the local sheriff tells Charlie Rakes he doesn’t much like him, Charlie says, “Not many do.” This simple statement defines his character better than anything he says or does.

When Charlie Rakes delivers a brutal beating to Jack Bondurant because of who he is rather than for anything he’s done, Jack doesn’t even try to defend himself. The score, however, is ultimately settled.

A world-weary dame from the city named Maggie (played by Jessica Chastain) shows up and becomes a sort of employee of the Bondurants. She helps Forrest—at one point saving his life—and eventually falls for him, although very little screen time is given to their “romance.” That’s not what this movie is about.

Even though the Bondurant brothers are on the “wrong” side of the law, we are on their side and want them to succeed. Deep down, they are decent fellows just trying to make a living in hard times. They resort to violence only when they must to defend their interests. At one point, Forrest states that it’s the fear they have over people that makes them survive in the very ugly and brutal business they are in. Don’t mess with them and they won’t mess with you.

Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp

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