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Life of bootlegger brothers is beautiful and bloody

Published: Saturday, September 1, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05


Special to The Prospector

”Lawless” is violent entertainment with excellent character performances and a bold direction, what Michael Mann attempted to make with “Public Enemies” (2009) but fell short of doing. Although the film is modestly budgeted, it delivers a great amount of action and drama. 

The film is directed by Australian director John Hillcoat, who first rose to popularity with his directorial debut “The Proposition” (2005) a modern western that established his signature as an auteur. He followed his debut with the adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy Pulitzer Prize winner “The Road” (2009). This film delivers on what was expected from him and all of his trademarks for raw, realistic violence fueled with emotion. 

The story follows the real life Bondurant brothers who made their lives bootlegging moonshine in prohibition-era Virgina. Legend says that the Bondurant brothers are indestructible, something the oldest brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) believes so much he actually thinks he walked a dozen miles in the snow with an injury that would have killed any common man.

The Bondurant brothers lead a relatively successful enterprise until a corrupt fed from Chicago, played by Guy Pearce, wants a share of the profits. This leads to the legend of their indestructibility being put to the test. Pearce is captivating and demands the audience’s attention with his eccentric portrayal of a 1930s dandy, hell bent on destruction.

The focus of the film is on the youngest of the brothers, Jack, played by Shia LaBeouf with an earnest that makes it difficult to dislike him, but still makes it seem it will be awhile before LaBeouf breaks out of typecasting. We see the events of the movie through Jack, as he tries to find his place in the Bondurant brother legacy.

The cast is more talented than popular, filled with faces that create a sense of atmosphere and belief in the period. Even the faces of the extras are like portraits hanging on a museum for the Americana. 

One gripe is that the cast is in fact talented and known for their merit, the film chooses to play many of the known actors outside of the action and have little screen time. In the larger purpose of the film, it doesn't really matter because the movie still works as a story about Jack.

The cinematography by Benoît Delhomme helps establish the film as a view into the past. Regardless of how odd it may feel to watch a period film shot with a digital camera the setting is never questioned but appreciated in full.

The soundtrack for the film will be one, music enthusiasts will undoubtedly hunt for to add to their collection. Featuring new music and orchestral arrangements by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave with his band The Bootleggers. These pieces drive a hard southern blues folk-rock into the film that grabbed me from the opening images. The music isn't used sparingly but to entertain. 

The movie does stumble in some of its pacing, and the direction is sufficiently different that will make it difficult for it to please all tastes immediately. However, as the film came to its closing, I couldn't help but feel pleased at the overall experience. This is a different kind of entertainment that is built on beautiful cinematography, a pumping soundtrack and raw emotion that hits like a brass knuckle fist to the gut.

 Though its August release may weaken its reception as a contender for the Academy Awards, ”Lawless” is a movie that boldly says things are getting serious now.

Mario Simental may be reached at

Four out of five picks.


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