When most people think of Prohibition they picture sexy speakeasies and jazz, the songs of Billie Holiday and sweaty bodies dancing dangerously close together. Others think of Al Capone and the rise of organized crime with all their style, charisma, and money.
Adapted from the historical novel The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, Lawless hits theaters this week. Set in the aforementioned Prohibition Era the film recounts the tale of “The Boudurant Boys”, three bootlegging brothers who get into fights, speed through back roads, and cause trouble for the authorities.
Now before you say anything, this has nothing to do with The Dukes of Hazzard. I just wish it did.
Had Lawless a little of the Duke’s over the top style of humor then at least it would have some style. Despite good to great acting performances from the majority of the recognizable cast (Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, and Jessica Chastain) the film mostly feels conflicted, unsure whether to spotlight Hardy or LaBeouf. Usually this kind of problem would fall at the feet of script writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, but unfortunately the source material has a similar conflict with its use of multiple narrators. Still, for a team like Cave and Hillcoat, who have worked together in the past, a better execution is to be expected.
The cast of Lawless is by far its best feature. Tom Hardy’s eyeball-grabbing performance is bigger than his screen time as the strong silent and “invincible” brother Forest Bondurant. Hardy stands as the backbone of the film. Forest is the clearly defined leader of the brothers who does his best to keep the youngest brother Jack (LaBeouf) out of danger until Jack starts inviting it to their home of Franklin County, Virginia. LaBeouf does well to play his part of young and meek Jack Bondurant, but unfortunately it feels that the script and editing do him the injustice of making him mostly unlikable. By the time of the character’s inevitable redemption the audience is left wondering why they should care.
One unique aspect of the film directly drawn from its source material is the unabashedly brutal handling of violence. Many of the scenes that include violence are scoreless and pull no punches when revealing the damage a fist can do. In spite of the slowed pace in the center of the movie, each violent act is filmed with simple, stomach-cleching intensity.
Ultimately Lawless is not as advertised. It is not a story about three brothers who tear through bootlegging country with guns’a’blazing and boot firmly placed in asses. It’s a film about one brother whose first job is to take care of his family and another whose dream is to be a gangster.
But if that’s a story you want to watch then I’d recommend A Bronx Tale. This movie puts Gary Oldman in the marquee for only 3 min of screen time.
Score: 2/5 Bottles of Hooch