The Big Screen: Blood and booze flow in Prohibition-era 'Lawless'

By Kevin VaughnSeptember 6, 2012 

Making assumptions is crossing into dangerous territory.

With rocker Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat venturing back through familiar territory after their outlaw hit "The Proposition," and a cast that includes Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Shia LeBeouf, I anticipated a killer western. Unfortunately, the most interesting news to come out of "Lawless" is that LeBeouf, in an eternal quest to be taken as a serious actor, sent a videotape of himself and his girlfriend (without her knowledge) being intimate in order to get cast in Danish director Lars Von Trier's "Nymphomaniac."

He got the role, but I digress.

"Lawless" is a Prohibition-era moonshine drama about three brothers bootlegging in what, according to the book on which the film is based, was the wettest county in the world. Forrest (an incredible Hardy) is their tough leader, his rough edges being feathered by Maggie (Chastain), a retired hooker who has come to the brothers' mountain town in search of calm. Howard (Jason Clarke) is the most feared of the three, a wild man in comparison to young Jack (LeBeouf), who gets dizzy around blood. He is most interested in a girl named Bertha (Wasikowska), the preacher's daughter.

Things get bloody fast with the arrival of Special Agent Charley Rakes (Pearce), a sharply dressed snake in the grass. He is sadistic, meticulous and obsessive; Pearce paints a portrait of evil dressed in a four-piece suit. He is in Franklin County by way of Chicago, not to shut them down but rather to grab a piece of the pie.

Similarly interested is mobster Floyd Banner (a fantastic Oldman).

A lot of men have to be killed before the movie can end, and in the vein of its predecessors, "Lawless" is a bloody saga.

I'm not the type of moviegoer who minds grotesque amounts of violence, but here the violence supplants any true attempt at story. The actors, although all delivering standout performances, are all driven by script rather than real character. And although the violence and the shoot-outs are stylishly filmed, they don't serve any purpose besides being violent.

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