Lawless

A while back, a family in Virginia was looking through some old papers and found some newspaper articles from the 1930's that mentioned some relatives of theirs -- namely, the Bondurant brothers, Forrest, Howard, and Jack. The family knew they must have made and sold a little moonshine, since back then in Franklin County, where they lived, everyone made and sold a little moonshine. That's just what people did. I think half the people within a hundred-mile radius must have died of something alcohol-related, or they wouldn't all have been able to stay in business.

Anyway, as it turned out, it wasn't just "a little shine". No, the Bondurants were big-timers, making their living off bootlegging, under cover of a small gas station/diner, and they were much feared, at least the older two were. The youngest brother, Jack, was still alive when those papers were found, and when asked about his past, replied by showing his son the scar from his bullet wound. That must have been some family reunion that year.

Jack is Shia LeBeouf of the Transformers franchise in the movie version, based loosely off those articles. I say loosely because Jack's grandson wrote a historical novel about it all, and that's what the movie was based on, so we're two steps removed, and the real Jack didn't offer up much detail, apparently. So a lot of what happened is based on hearsay and rumor.

The real legend around the family was middle brother Forrest's conviction that they couldn't be killed. Tom Hardy from The Dark Knight Rises is Forrest, and while Tom is English you can't really tell that here because he mostly sort of growls when he talks so as to sound more intimidating, and it pretty much works. You can kind of understand where he got his idea about their own immortality, too -- oldest brother Howard (Jason Clarke, who is Australian and was in Public Enemies) was the sole survivor of his platoon or battalion or something in WWI, while Forrest survived the terrible influenza epidemic of 1918 that killed their parents. Since Howard also went a little crazy from the war, it was generally agreed that one messed with the Bondurants very much at one's own risk.

Enter Guy Pearce ofLockout. He's also English but here does a decent job of sounding like he's from Chicago. His character, Charlie Rakes, is a Special Deputy -- the 'special' part is very important to him for some reason -- sent to clean up Franklin County. The best way to do that, he figures, is to consolidate all the crime under one person (him), arrest anyone who won't cooperate, and take pictures of the authorities raiding various illegal stills to make it all look good.

Also English is Gary Oldman, also of The Dark Knight Rises, here as gangster Floyd Banner. It's a good part, but small, and I'm still not clear on how he fit in, really. He seems to have been hiding out in rural Virginia for some reason, but mainly he's sort of a plot point to help out Jack, who idolizes him. Jack doesn't have a lot of options for who to idolize, poor kid. And he picks the wrong girl to fall in love with, too, namely Bertha, played by Mia Wasikowska from Alice in Wonderland. Yes, she's English, too. I guess they're all trying to steal American jobs or something. Bertha is a preacher's daughter, a Mennonite preacher, although they don't say as much in the film. They look somewhat Amish but use cars and other such helpful devices. They do not, however, approve of bootlegging or the people who do it, so you can see where this is going.

You can kind of see where the whole movie is going, really, which might be part of the reason why it isn't such a great movie in spite of all the talent gathered together. Don't get me wrong, I was still very curious to see if Forrest would continue to be invincible no matter what people do to him, like Rasputin, but other questions don't work out so well. Maggie, for example, played by Jessica Chastain of The Help seems like she's supposed to have some interesting back story, but the movie never gets very close to it. She's fled Chicago for Virginia, burying herself in farm country, and yet every single out of towner seems to recognize her at once, which is bizarre. Dane DeHaan from Chronicle does a nice job as Jack's best friend Cricket, but again, few people really have much to work with in the script. There's just too much going on, which is standard with 'based on a true story' films, but considering that this one was pretty fictionalized, I was a little surprised to see it happening here.

Three out of five. It's no Labor Day blockbuster, but then, people don't seem to make those anymore. And it's certainly a solid film overall, despite completely wasting Gary Oldman. It was also nice to see Shia LeBeouf in something that wasn't Transformers-based and therefore awful. On the other hand, something about the film never really took off, either, despite the excitement of moonshiners hiding from the law and all that. But in the course of my research, I did happen across some fascinating new nicknames for moonshine, including Donkey Punch, See Seven Stars, and of course, Popskull. I guess it's like that legend about Eskimos having 73 words for snow.

Image: 
Guy Pearce looking frighteningly perfectly groomed.

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