Magazine article Screen International


Magazine article Screen International


Article excerpt

Dir: John Hillcoat. US. 2012. 115mins

John Hillcoat's latest movie is a well-paced and entertaining story of bootlegging in 1931 Virginia, skillfully adapted by Nick Cave from Matt Bondurant's 2008 novel The Wettest County In The World. But if the film will boost Hillcoat's stock as a commercial director, it is lacking in both the poetry that infused The Proposition and The Road and the mythic quality of many other retro '30s gangster pictures from Bonnie And Clyde to The Untouchables.

The story does not give Hillcoat much time for the visual or philosophical explorations that have graced his oeuvre to date.

A superb cast of hot young actors led by Shia Labeouf and Tom Hardy and the clout of The Weinstein Company, which will no doubt push it out wide in the US, will ensure strong initial returns from Lawless. But several factors will hamper its prospects in the US and internationally, from the thick, often unintelligible southern accents to the consistent and graphic violence. It is likely to perform better in arthouses than in commercial circuits, attracting upscale audiences over the teen crowd.

Bondurant's book is based on the exploits of his grandfather Jack Bondurant and his two brothers Forrest and Howard, a trio of bootlegging siblings who ruled the illegal whisky manufacturing and distribution trade in Franklin County. The film aligns all the drama into one year - 1931 - in the height of Prohibition.

Jack (LaBeouf) is the youngster of the three, desperate to be taken seriously by his brothers and start doing some illegal runs across county lines. Witnessing Chicago gangster Floyd Banner (Oldman) mow down two cops one day, he longs for a piece of the action. Forrest (Hardy), a brooding silent type with a knuckleduster in his pocket and a head for business, runs the show, while Howard (Clarke), a giant of a man damaged in the war and perpetually drunk, is the heavy who protects the operation.

But when a new county attorney decides he wants a piece of the action, he imports an FBI agent called Charley Rakes (Pearce) to make sure all the bootleggers hand over some of their earnings to the police. Forrest won't play ball, causing Rakes to start a war against the Bondurants. It starts with him beating Jack senseless and continues when two of his men slit Forrest's throat.

But the Bondurants have a reputation for being invincible. Forrest survives the garroting with a scar and, while he is in hospital, Jack proves his worth by making a delivery to Floyd Banner and scoring a good price per gallon. …

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