Whenever I hear anything about the prohibition era, a feeling of anxiety comes over me, I immediately cross myself and say, “Dios mio, never again… or at least not in my lifetime.” That was an era when it was illegal to produce, transport and sell alcohol. Because of such an inhumane law in the early 1900’s, the services and products of bootleggers and moonshiners were in high demand, and if you ask anyone in Franklin County, Virginia about the Bondurant brothers, you’ll probably hear folktales of a band of brothers that were dedicated to bootlegging booze, brawling and blood.
Based on Matt Bondurant’s factual novel, The Wettest County (sounds like a dream come true for single men, doesn’t it?), Lawless takes you back to a time when people were doing the Charleston, gangsters weren’t rappin’, (they were clappin’,) and the reputation of the Bondurant brothers turned to legend.
Led by the brain and brawn of the outfit, Forrest (played by the ever awesome, Tom Hardy), wannabe-g Jack (Shi-AA Labeouf, who said he drank himself into stupors in real life in order to be in character when shooting his scenes), and boozehound Howard (Jason Clarke), became known as Franklin County’s beloved premier moonshiners. Having gone through more sh*t than Charmin Ultra Strong and survived, the brothers – Forrest specifically – were considered “indestructible” and “invincible” by their town brethren, and they used that respect to go about their business without interference from the Sheriff or anyone hating on their small enterprise. Even well-known Chicago gangster Floyd Banner (Gary “Commissioner Gordon” Oldman) is familiar with the brothers’ history and wants no parts of them.
But Forrest’s world changes when crooked Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (a marvelous Guy Pearce) shows up with a simple ultimatum: let me wet my beak or get shut down like a Rick Ross concert in North Carolina. Running amuck and causing a ruckus across the dirt roads, grass fields and stash houses (seriously, the Blu Ray does the cinematography justice), Rakes isn’t only making his presence felt, he’s making it the law. And while surrounding towns have kneeled to the almighty Rakes, the Bane brothers refuse to fall in line.
Solemnly readying himself for an inevitable war while trying to run a business, Forrest is also fighting off the warm feelings he’s developing for the redheaded M-80, Maggie (Jessica Chastain, who’s not a bombshell, but she does have a few grams of explosiveness in her) who he hired to help out at his bar but whose charm and sex appeal attracts the wrong kind of attention. If Drake and Chris Brown tore up the club for Rihanna, then Sean Penn and Ryan Goslin would tear up a Starbucks for Jessica.
All the while, Jack is busy earning his comeuppance at the hands of Rakes, plotting moonshine moves with his crippled homie Cricket (Dane DeHaan), and courting his own little tenderoni who is so fragile she’s capable of looking like she’s pregnant with twins should she swallow an entire Rocher chocolate. No lie, she could be the third Olsen twin. But that’s neither here nor there.
As for Howard? He’s drunk whenever he’s not putting beatings on someone.
In the end, what director John Hillcoat ended up with was a film that will make you appreciate the fact that the liquor store is open on Sundays, and that, for the most part, men stopped parting their hair down the middle. Though the sound quality left much to be desired whether it was shortchanging a climatic shootout or the effects a pair of brass knuckles can have on a man’s jaw or ribcage when Tom Hardy is using them like a surgeon (this is the Blu Ray age, step ya sonic game up or end up like Sega!), Lawless is still a movie that will hold your attention through great scenery, superb acting and a nude Jessica Chastain.
Time: 112 Minutes
Feature Commentary with Director John Hillcoat and Author Matt Bondurant
The True Story of the Wettest County in the World
Franklin County, VA: Then and Now
"Midnight Run" Willie Nelson music video
The Story of The Bondurant Family