Lawless (John Hillcoat, 2012)

Firstly, just to say that I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. I mis-timed a visit to the cinema to watch Dredd &, faced with a 2-hour wait for the next screening or a 1-hour wait for a train home, settled on the only other offering I’d not already seen or really didn’t want to watch at all.

The background is a mountainous and wooded region of prohibition-era Virginia (beautifully rendered, though shot in Georgia), where the three Bondurant brothers are operating a moonshine business, selling to the big-city gangsters, though living pretty basically themselves, paying off lawmen with a share of the moonshine. Into this world comes the corrupt special agent Rakes, played with pantomime panache by Guy Pearce, who intends taking over all the local producers and running it for a local crooked politician. The eldest Bondurant brother, Forrest, is determined not to work for anybody and takes an immediate dislike to Rakes, making clear that there will be no compromise, and battle lines are drawn up.

Tom Hardy, as Forrest, puts in a terrific performance, full of stillness, menace and power. Jason Clarke’s Howard, the second brother, is more overtly violent but is a little underdrawn, and Shia Labouef’s youngest brother, Jack, the narrater and ostensible lead character is perfectly decent, if a little overshadowed by Hardy. With Mia Wasikowska as love interest for Jack and Jessica Chastain, serenely beautiful as the ex-dancer who falls for Forrest, providing a little characterisation beyond the fraternal, and a minor role for Gary Oldman as big-city gangster Floyd Banner, the film rattles along happily. There are a couple of moments of violence, and a little bit of nudity, though I’m surprised at the “18” (UK) certificate. This is a very rose-tinted view of prohibition America, even if it is based on a true-life memoir, and the hackneyed “gangsters are the good guys, lawmakers are the real bad guys” is a bit too black and white to ring true.

Still, if you just take it as a bit of escapist fluff, it’s fine fun.


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