Hardy Helms A ‘Lawless’ Adventure
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
The time of prohibition must have been a really bloody stain in our history. And after watching Lawless, you’ll think that the only reason the government lifted the ban on alcohol was because of the Bondurant brothers—and that’s probably partially true. After all, the movie does boast that it’s based on a true story.
Mostly, Hollywood can’t be trusted much when they use the phrase “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events,” but in the case of Lawless, it was adapted from the novel titled The Wettest County in the World, which was written by Matt Bondurant, who is the grandchild of Jack Bondurant and grand nephew of Forrest and Howard Bondurant, the central characters in the film.
In an article published by The Daily Beast, Matt says that the discovery by his father of old newspaper stories about his grandfather and the great shooting on Maggodee Creek Bridge in 1930, inspired him to write the story of his grandfather and his brothers. It was also a way for him to make up for lost time. “I think of the missed opportunities, the chances I had to talk to my grandfather, and I get angry and filled with regret,” he said. But now, aside from the tangible book, Matt has Lawless to act as his visual connection to the past.
The Bondurant brothers were famous in the 1930s in the town of Franklin County, Va., especially the eldest brother, Forrest. People of the town greatly respected Forrest, and many told stories that he was nearly indestructible—as a child he was plagued with a disease that killed his parents, but he survived it, but he was stabbed and shot various times and came through alive and well. So naturally, all the Bondurant brothers thought of themselves as above the law and practically immortal.
The backdrop for the film is the town of Franklin County, and the central conflict is three brothers who are making and selling alcohol – “moonshine” as they called it – during prohibition. A corrupt man of the law from Chicago, played by the talented Guy Pearce, comes into town and offers to look the other way in exchange for a piece of the profits. But, as Forrest plainly puts it, “I’m a Bondurant. We don’t lay down for nobody.” This doesn’t sit well with the officer from Chicago, Mr. Charlie Rakes, so then begins the fighting and shooting and name-calling and chasing and proud won’t-back-down moments that are essential to these western-style tales.
Jessica Chastain plays the quiet beauty Maggie, who gets a job working at the bar owned by the Bondurant brothers. Any other actress would have faded away in the background behind the three bothers, played by Shia LaBeouf (Jack), Tom Hardy (Forrest), and Jason Clarke (Howard). The character of Maggie is smaller than a normal supporting role, but Chastain proved that there are no small roles (only small actors), and she nearly stole every scene she was in.
Nothing bad can be said about the acting when it comes to Lawless—the chemistry between the three Bondurant brothers was great, and the distinction between the eldest and in-charge brother (Forrest), the right-hand man and a bit of a drunk middle brother (Howard), and the youngest who is naive and messes up a lot (Jack) was spot-on. LaBeouf did remind me, however, of his old Even Stevens days when he played troublemaker and younger brother Louis Stevens. His character messed up a lot then also.
Veteran leading man Gary Oldman (and one of my personal favorite actors) was part of the cast as mob-man Floyd Banner. At first, when Oldman’s character appears on screen, it looks as if Banner will be a central character to the conflict, and when something bad happens, you want to think it’s his bidding, but alas, it isn’t. Oldman plays a much smaller supporting role than Chastain, but once again, his talent only helps the overall film for the better.
The story itself was interesting and engaging—however, there were moments when scenes lasted a bit longer than they should have, or it took too long to get to the point, or moments that were not central to the overall story. Yet, these moments were few, so don’t let this discourage you.
Lawless is a hefty tale about breaking the law, love, loyalty, friendship, and above all, family. If anything at all, I would say that Hardy’s performance is so genuine that aside from carrying the film, it makes it worth the trip to the theater.