The Prohibition era is an example much used when discussing the illegalization of marijuana and other substances and the problem some people believe it is. After watching this year’s “Lawless” many, many hippies may begin to use it as an example against “The Man.”
“Lawless” is the violent, dark, intense, gritty and entertaining visualization of the famous Bondurant Boys, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) who ran the moonshine racket in Franklin County, Va. The tagline gave the impression that, much like “Bonnie and Clyde,” this was a movie about how criminals stood up against a system believed to be corrupt and, therefore, became heroes. However, “Lawless” struggled to find this story, but in the end it left a different but equally resounding feeling.
The story mainly surrounded the younger brother, Jack, who more so than his brothers tried to expand the business out of Hickville and to the heights of Chicago men like Al Capone and Floyd Banner.
His rather stoic, gruffy and battle-torn brother Forrest seemed to think all this would do is cause trouble whereas the eldest brother, Howard, was fine with anything as long as he could drink his own supply. This behavior attracted the attention of special agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) who, with the creepiest haircut since Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men,” attempted to bring down the boys and anyone like them. That about sums everything up.
The boys, who lived comfortably in their ways for years, encountered an outside government force and refused to give into their demands. This sparked a fire that led to acts of revenge, intimidation and desperation coated in a violent style not seen in any movie about this time period.
The script, written by musician Nick Cave, attempted to be a tale of criminals standing up to government greed but ended up just being one about men standing up to, well, a maniacal, obsessive compulsive agent. Pearce’s Rakes is a vile, creepy and incredibly determined federal agent and was one of the more engaging villains in recent history, so much so that even the local police couldn’t stand him. It was done so well it kind of destroyed the whole criminals/heroes vs. misguided authority.
But, as said earlier, the movie instead created an entirely different effect. It made the viewers interested in the time period. John Hillcoat (“The Road,” “The Proposition”) continued his work in the realm of bluntly titled movies with a vision of creating a violent and sinister period movie that was appropriately reflected. The movie had blood, both by bullet and blunt force, with every blow being felt. It was a style from which too many have shied but was refreshing though sometimes hard to watch.
The main cast soared, too, with LaBeouf and Pearce turning in their best work with the latter deserving as much as an Oscar nod as the sadistic and unlikable Rakes. Hardy stole every scene as the intimidating Forrest Bondurant and again proved his versatility as an actor willing to try new things.
Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Gray Oldman made a well-done supporting cast but were lesser characters and were more representative of the realism of the harshness and desire of the time.
The screenplay was truly the movie’s weakest link. The story was razor thin and found little to do for many of its cast members and served better as a medium for telling a story about one of the great little-known crime families of Prohibition.
However, there was nothing totally wrong with that. With a clear, realistic vision by a talented director and engaging performances by a talented cast, “Lawless” overcame its flaws and made for a fantastic history lesson that forced me to research the topic even more. This was the kind of movie (unlike last year’s “J. Edgar”) that should be shown in history classes to demonstrate the power of legends and what people have done for power, control and order. And, hey, it was really, really bloody, and if that doesn’t stop the texting in class, nothing will.