What do you get when you combine old-school grit and violence, a real-life story of Prohibition-era bootlegging and a star-studded cast? You get one of this week's must-see movies, "Lawless." Based on Matt Bondurant's 2008 book "The Wettest County in the World," the film tells the story of three Moonshine bootleggers during the depression in rural Virginia and stars Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jessica Chastain and Gary Oldman.
Critics have saluted the film's arrival in theaters Friday with a slew of mixed-positive reviews, and it's currently sitting with a mostly "Fresh" rating over at Rotten Tomatoes. So without further ado, get ready to toss a few back as we stumble through the "Lawless" reviews!
" 'Lawless' takes place in Franklin County, Virginia, during the Great Depression. The Bondurant Brothers — Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard (Jason Clarke) — are good old boys that make a minor living bootlegging moonshine. Forrest and Howard run the show with a near mythic reputation for being impossible to kill. Jack languishes in his brothers' shadows, waiting for the day when he can prove himself. That time comes when Jack starts selling moonshine to Chicago gangster, Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). This does not sit well with the crooked lawmen led by Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a narcissistic, glove-wearing psychopath. Rakes means to have a piece of the Bondurant business and will get it by any means necessary. The Bondurant Brothers fight back at each turn until the situation escalates into an all-out war. The women they love, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, pay a heavy price in the conflict." — Julian Roman, Movieweb.com
"Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals, bluegrass, and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics, he lights up 'Lawless' and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man, but like everything in the movie, you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can 'uurrr' and 'mmmnerm' his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug, but Chastain, who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of 'Lawless' is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows, pristine city clothes, and a temper like a rabid wolverine, Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's onscreen. That's even before he starts drawing blood." — Matt Patches, Hollywood.com
" 'Lawless' takes an unflinching look at this part of American history. Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, is beautifully recreated thanks to a keen sense of detail. Oftentimes in period pieces you can't help but feel like you are watching a dull reenactment. Yet [director John] Hillcoat skillfully tells the Bondurant story with spurts of brutality and images of breathtaking magnificence. Shot on location just outside of Atlanta — around Peachtree City, Georgia — Hillcoat and his DP Benoît Delhomme paint this era in a picturesque manner using a natural color palate, one which makes the bloodshed all the more vivid when it occurs. This is a timeless story about a bygone era that manages to combine the western and the gangster drama in a rich and powerful story. It may not be all that original, yet it sure as hell breathes life into both sub-genres." — Jimmy O, JoBlo.com
Gangsters and Their Guns
"With its sepia-drenched imagery, ritualistic brutality and mythologized portrait of fraternal solidarity, 'Lawless' comports with nearly every rule governing the gangster-picture genre at its most action-packed and romantic. This is the kind of blood-letting valentine to murder, moonshine and male vanity that can either become a classic on a par with 'Miller's Crossing' or 'Bonnie and Clyde' or a respectable but otherwise un-noteworthy also-ran. 'Lawless' belongs to the latter category if only because it re-treads such well-traveled territory without discovering anything genuinely new or surprising (unless you count the most luridly graphic throat-slitting in recent memory)." — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
The Final Word
"Thankfully, 'Lawless' doesn't take itself too seriously, with its pretensions toward gravitas repeatedly punctured by Nick Cave's rough but effective screenplay, which traffics in crude humor and violent set pieces. Because the movie remains so firmly focused on functioning as pure entertainment, flaws like a botched central conflict and cardboard female characters don't detract as much as they might. The film elevates pulp fare with the trappings of prestige, even as it dares itself to go as nasty as possible: Great sound design can convey both the delicate rustle of autumn leaves and the rotten-tomato smush of a forceful punch to a goiter. A colorful, carefully paced, and deliriously violent update of gangster archetypes, it's the perfect bridge between the senseless blather of summer and the hollow pomposity of awards season." — Jesse Cataldo, Slant Magazine
Check out everything we've got on "Lawless."