At the Movies: Lawless

Early review this week, probably because of the holiday. Good thing, as I won’t be around on Friday.

“Lawless,” based on Matt Bondurant’s novel “The Wettest County in the World,” is a Depression-era tale about a family of bootleggers in rural Virginia. Bondurant’s family, as it turns out. The movie’s not 100 proof, but it has enough kick to be worth your time if your interested in this type of story.

Tom Hardy stars as Forrest Bondurant, the head of the clan. Forrest and brothers Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf)  run a respectable tavern in addition to a side business selling moonshine. Forrest is the calm, rational one; Howard is wilder and prone to violence; Jack is the youngest and the dreamer.

Pretty much everyone in Franklin County is in the moonshine business and everyone pretty much gets along, until an out-of-town politician starts demanding a cut from all the bootleggers and sends Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) down from Chicago to make sure everyone falls in line.

Everyone falls in line except the Bondurants. What follows is what you’d expect — violence and lots of it, along with a couple of love stories to pad things out. Jessica Chastain plays Maggie, a former dancer from the big city who goes to work for Forrest and falls in love with him. Jack has his eyes set on Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), a Mennonite preacher’s daughter with a thing for bad boys.

Directed by John Hillcoat and written by Nick Cave, “Lawless” has various flaws. The pacing is very slow which saps some of the tension and drama out of the story. The romantic subplots aren’t interesting. Guy Pearce’s character is so over-the-top both in action and appearance that he’s cartoonishly out of place.

What held my attention and makes me recommend the film is the smoldering yet simultaneously cool performance of Tom Hardy. While “Lawless” will hardly bring in the box office cash that Hardy’s other summer movie (he plays the villain Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”) has, this is by far a more compelling performance. It helps that you can actually see his face this time.

Gary Oldman is also terrific in an all-too-brief scene as local gangster Floyd Banner. I would much rather have spent more time with Floyd than the predictable romance between Jack and Bertha.

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