LAWLESS – Review by Susan Granger

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Set in 1931 during the early years of Prohibition and the Great Depression, John Hillcoat’s uber-violent gangster/Western introduces the legendary Bondurants, a trio of bootlegging brothers who controlled whiskey manufacturing and distribution in Franklin County in the backwoods of Virginia.

Hot-headed Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest and serves as the narrator. Big, boozy Howard (Jason Clarke) is the oldest but he’s still shell-shocked from W.W.I so his role is, basically, that of an enforcer – which leaves the taciturn middle son, Forrest (Tom Hardy), as the brains behind the family business. Their parents died in the Spanish flu epidemic and they run a rural café/feed store/gas station that serves as a front for their moonshining operation which is disrupted by the arrival of corrupt Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce), who wants a share of profits generated by their particularly high-grade hooch, carefully concocted by crippled Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan) at their secret distillery. A fastidious dandy, Rakes is a sadistic psychopath whose pastimes are rape and murder. Plus there’s notorious Chicago mobster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). Jack’s girl-friend is a Mennonite minister’s rebellious daughter, Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), while Forrest is involved with Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), a former burlesque ‘dancer’ from Chicago. But the women get short-shrift insofar as screen time goes.

Adapted by musician/screenwriter Nick Cave (who contributes a fiddle/banjo score) from Matt Bondurant’s 2008 semi-biographical novel, “The Wettest County in the World,” in the hands of Australian director John Hillcoat, best known for his post-apocalyptic parable “The Road” (2009), working with cinematographer Benoit Delhomme and editor Dylan Tichenor, the crime-saga carnage emerges as a menacingly artistic Americana relic.

Despite its obvious visual merits, there’s an auditory problem with the actors’ pseudo-Appalachian accents. Tom Hardy, who growled his villainous way through “The Dark Knight Rises” with a mask covering his face, is perhaps the worst offender, sounding nothing like his moonshining ‘brothers’ Jason Clarke or Shia LeBeouf.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Lawless” is an uneven yet vividly stylishly 6, filled with brutal bloodshed.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.