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Allen Adams Allen Adams
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edge staff writer


They fought the law and the law won

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Lawless' an ambitious attempt that falls just short

The Prohibition Era was a time of outlaws and folk heroes. The government fought and continually lost - a constant battle against the bootleggers and gangsters that arose following the illegalization of alcohol. Their jobs weren't made any easier by a general populace that mostly disagreed with the law and often casually violated it.

This is the world of the Bondurant family, a group of Virginia brothers that rose to prominence through their Depression-era bootlegging exploits. 'Lawless,' based on the book 'The Wettest County in the World' by Matt Bondurant, follows the brothers as they are finally confronted by the law.

In Franklin County, Virginia, Prohibition has led to a thriving underground economy. At the top of the moonshine pyramid sit the Bondurant boys. Eldest brother Forrest (Tom Hardy, 'The Dark Knight Rises') is a stoic, taciturn man, sole survivor of a naval disaster and according to legend indestructible. Middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke, TV's 'The Chicago Code') is hard-drinking, hard-fighting and prone to violence. Youngest brother Jack (Shia LeBeouf, 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon') is viewed by his brothers as too soft, not tough enough for the rigorous dangers of bootlegging.

Things only get worse when a new D.A. shows up in town with hand outstretched, demanding his piece of the pie. He's got Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce, 'Prometheus') in tow, a Chicago transplant who is as unstable as he is crooked. And in the midst of it all, you've got the mysterious Maggie (Jessica Chastain, 'The Help'), who works for the brothers and is the object of some affection; you've also got Bertha (Mia Wasikowska, 'Albert Nobbs'), a member of a strict religious group being courted by young Jack.

When the too-proud Forrest refuses to back down, things begin to escalate. The increasingly unhinged Rakes wreaks havoc throughout the town and the sinister influences of local gangsters particularly Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman, 'The Dark Knight Rises') and it becomes clear that a showdown is coming.

'Lawless' is surprisingly ambitious particularly given its late-August release date. It's certainly of a higher quality than you expect to see at this time of year. It has a lot going for it, but for some difficult-to-determine reason, it doesn't quite come together.

The cast is frankly phenomenal. Tom Hardy continues to turn in performance after varied performance that demonstrates an on-screen virtuosity that is precious and rare. The rough quiet of his portrayal of Forrest is magnetic. Pearce is wonderfully reprehensible as Rakes, a vicious monster beneath a slick, stylized veneer. Even LeBeouf does some decent work; he's clearly embracing the current 'Take Me Seriously' phase of his career. There are no discernibly weak performances here.

Another thing the film does right is capture the spirit of period. The film looks great, with a wonderful feel for the era it is portraying. Capturing a historic snapshot can be difficult, but 'Lawless' does it beautifully. Even the violence which is frequent and sometimes shockingly brutal is rendered consistently with the bleak depths of the setting.

And yet it doesn't quite click. 'Lawless' clearly has grand ambitions, and in a lot of ways the film meets them. The quality of performance is outstanding, and the film looks fantastic. However, there's a listless quality to the proceedings that is hard to pin down. Maybe it's the meandering pace at certain points of the film. Maybe it's the largely cumbersome love stories entwined throughout. Maybe it's the dark tone. I honestly can't say.

What I can say, however, is that despite its flaws, 'Lawless' is still a good movie; one that deserved better than to be released into the vast box office wasteland that is Labor Day weekend.

3.5 out of 5


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