4.5/5 MUST must see SEE
dir John Hillcoat
scr Nick Cave
prd Michael Benaroya, Megan Ellison, Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick
with Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Noah Taylor, Lew Temple, Bill Camp, Bruce McKinnon
release US 29.Aug.12, UK 7.Sep.12
12/US 1h56
The moonshine boys: Hardy and LaBeouf

chastain pearce wasikowska
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Lawless Based on the more imaginatively titled book The Wettest County in the World, this film tells the true story of the Bondurant brothers, who ran a bootlegging business in the Virginia backwoods. Hillcoat shoots it like a brutal neo-Western. And it's utterly riveting.

It's 1931, and as the Bondurant brothers build their moonshine business, youngest brother Jack (LaBeouf) wants to be more involved. Big brother Forrest (Hardy) would rather keep him out of it, while Howard (Clarke) just goes with the flow. As Jack secretly teams up with mechanical whiz Cricket (DeHaan) to ramp up production, the slimy city-slicker Agent Rakes (Pearce) arrives to hunt down bootleggers in the area. Soon the brothers are running a delicate balance, dodging Rakes and his goons while they keep mobster Banner (Oldman) supplied with hooch.

Undercutting this increasingly nasty male-dominated story are two women: Maggie (Chastain) is a barmaid with a shady past who finds herself drawn to the monosyllabic Forrest, while Bertha (Wasikowska) is the local preacher's daughter who rebels by encouraging Jack's crush. Both of these side-plots develop with real delicacy, even as they intersect with the film's most horrific moments. Quite a few scenes are so fiercely violent that they're hard to watch.

The plot's layers keep us gripped to a tale in which the police are snarling villains and the criminals are likeable and loyal. Hardy is magnetic as a man who is hard as nails on the surface, but has a deeply hidden vein of compassion and mischief. Chastain has some extremely powerful moments of her own, while Oldman is also particularly good in a small role that bristles with energy. And Pearce gets to chomp merrily on the scenery (and wear the film's most ridiculous costumes and hair).

Hillcoat's direction and Cave's script (Cave also composed the gorgeous score with Warren Ellis) keep everything grounded in earthy realism, drawing on the almost mythical settings to add to film's central theme that these brothers are creating a legend about themselves that might only be partially true. This theme grows through a series of capers, raids and shoot-outs that both terrify and empower the locals who spread the gossip. Like them, we prefer to believe the myth.

cert 18 themes, language, strong violence 9.Jul.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall