The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Friday, August 31, 2012
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) doesn't say much in the new film, "Lawless." He doesn't have to.
A grunt, a groan, a stare. We all know he's a man not to be trifled with.
And that is the essence of the movie about the three Franklin County Bondurant brothers, whose exploits were chronicled in the Matt Bondurant book on which the film was based, "The Wettest County in the World."
The setting is 1931 when the Great Depression takes a back seat to Prohibition in rural Franklin County, where moonshine liquor becomes a more valuable commodity than it ever was.
For the Bondurant brothers, as well as many in the county, making liquor is a traditional way to make a living, or at least to supplement a hard scrabble existence.
As the profits grow bigger, corrupt police officers want a larger piece of the action. But for Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest and young Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf), playing the game has its limitations, and the hard-nosed mountain men reach their limit when Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) moves in to up the ante.
What transpires is very much like an old-fashioned western, with the stubbornly independent brothers defending their territory, their way of life, their honor, not lying down for any man, as Forrest Bondurant so bluntly states.
The plot may be a bit muddled at times and character development on the subdued side, but the sterling cast that includes Gary Oldman (gangster Floyd Banner), Jessica Chastain (Maggie Beauford, Forrest's love interest) and Mia Wasikowska (Bertha Minnix, a German Baptist who catches Jack's attention), all project a realism to their characters that brings alive the place, the time and the people.
Oldman in particular is, as usual, a scene stealer, and it's too bad his character did not have a larger role. He, like Forrest Bondurant, projects that sense of purposeful intensity that leaves no doubt he means business.
Pearce, who teamed with "Lawless" director John Hillcoat in the Australian western "The Proposition," plays Rakes with such a sadistic twist some may flinch and wonder just how bad a bad guy really needs to be.
But it does have a purpose.
Although making and selling moonshine was, of course, against the law, there is no moral ambiguity in "Lawless," mainly because of Rakes. It quickly becomes a classic tale of good guys vs. some really, really bad men.
And the power of the film rests in the courage of the Bondurants, who, come what may, were determined to stand their ground, not giving an inch to such a menacing, deadly threat.
That courage, though, meant a willingness to be violent, and without hesitation. It's not really the violence that separates men, Forrest Bondurant says, it's the distance they are willing to take it. No one questioned how far he would go, but it was also clear he had the character to go no further than he had to.
There's plenty to nitpick about "Lawless," including the often annoying reference to Franklin County as "Franklin." That's a city in another part of the state. And there is a scarcity of local references. Only Burnt Chimney, Blackwater and Martinsville are named. We're also sure many can find fault with the moonshine making itself as well as historical accuracy.
The book is a work of fiction, though, and the movie is "based" on true stories, which leaves plenty of room for the Hollywood treatment.
But what many Franklin County residents were concerned about was if the movie adequately depicts the fiercely independent spirit and courage of their ancestors. It does.
The film also features outstanding cinematography and a terrific soundtrack. Hey, how can you go wrong with Ralph Stanley singing the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat?"
The language, violence and nudity in "Lawless" may make some uneasy. It's not for the squeamish, and certainly not for children.
But overall, it's a simple story about courage, family and conviction, a story that is told very well by some fine actors.