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Laramie Movie Scope: Lawless

A moonshine war during prohibition

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 1, 2012 -- This is a classier, bloodier version of “Thunder Road” with hot rods, fast chicks, romance, revenge and a war between moonshiners and organized crime hoods who want to control the supply and distribution of illegal alcohol during prohibition.

If you've seen Ken Burns' documentary on prohibition, you know that it resulted in a vast expansion of organized crime. “Lawless” is based on a true story about those times, the 2008 novel “The Wettest County in the World,” written by Matt Bondurant about his grandfather and great-uncles and their war with mobsters in Franklin County Virginia.

Forrest (Played by Tom Hardy of “Warrior”) and Howard (Jason Clarke of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”) Bondurant. Are extremely tough, independent moonshiners in an area of Virginia where almost everyone was either a moonshine maker or a moonshine buyer, including the members of the law enforcement establishment. The Bondurants ran a small restaurant as a front for their small time moonshine operation. One day, a stunning beauty named Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain of the “Mad Men” TV series) comes to work for them and even the reserved and laconic Forrest Bondurant takes notice.

Forrest had a reputation as being indestructible after surviving the deadly Spanish Flu outbreak and surviving World War I, when all the other soldiers in his units were killed. Forrest is fearless when facing the guns and knives of those who would steal from him. When a mobster from Chicago, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce of “Memento”) starts demanding a cut of the profits of all the local bootleggers, most of them fall in line, or are killed, but not the Bondurants. They refuse to deal with Rakes, or anyone else. They are the last holdouts.

Things get very bloody and very ugly as Rakes increases the pressure on the Bondurants. This all leads to a final showdown, of course. The youngest Bondurant, Jack (Shia LaBeouf of the “Transformers” movies) is ambitious, but doesn't have the toughness or courage of Forrest and Howard. Rakes beats him up. Jack, undeterred, starts his own moonshine operation with a friend, Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan of “Chronicle”) who is a bit slow, but a genius with machines. Jack goes into business with one of the few men unafraid of Rakes, Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”). Banner is operating in an adjacent county and he doesn't like Rakes and he also doesn't want any problems with the Bondurant family.

Jack is trying to court a pretty young girl from a very strict religious family, Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska of “Jane Eyre”). It is tough going for Jack. Bertha's father chases him away every time he sees Jack, but he keeps after her. He tempts her with fancy clothes and fancy cars. It may be the Great Depression, but Jack has plenty of money. But Rakes won't let Jack and Cricket be independent much longer. Two opposing forces are on a collision course.

The acting is very strong by the entire cast and production values are strong. The Weinstein Company knows how to make classy movies. Even though there is a lot of bloody violence in the film, it still has class, and it looks great with good-looking sets, costumes and scenery. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)