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Lawless Movie Review: Tangy Tall Tale Moonshine Noir

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A rousing, occasionally tongue in cheek tall tale crime thriller delving into the contraband distillery rural roots of the Prohibition era, Lawless uncorks on screen as a rare glimpse into the backwater bootlegging flourishing in the 1920s. And playing out as an oddly humor-laden violent yarn, seemingly as narratively soaked in its own inebriated moonshine juices as the taboo product on tap in question.

Directed by John Hillcoat (The Road), Lawless is adapted from The Wettest County in the World, Matt Bondurant's 2008 novel chronicling the decidedly exaggerated invincible exploits handed down as dubious oral history, by his Virginia tribal mountain kin back then. And providing Transformers comic trooper Shia LaBeouf a seriously meaty role to sink his teeth into, as country boy outlaw apprentice Jack Bondourant.

The youngest of a gang of badass black market brewery brothers in remote Franklin County, sensitive guy Jack is willing but unable to muster the ruthless and belligerent macho streak necessary to get the unlawful job done. Especially when notorious gangsters start turning up from Chicago, bent on an urban hostile takeover muscling in on their lucrative local enterprise. Along with an even nastier homicidal big city scary lawman, Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce).

In no way a typical gangster saga, Lawless serves up authentic gritty atmosphere, colorful shady characters, and comic bluster that tends to take the edge off the gruesome intermittent blood drenched brutality. Including take charge equal parts brain and brawn brother of the operation, Forrest (Tom Hardy). Who has cultivated a fairly effective knack for distracting and overpowering intruders into their booze biz, by spouting existential sweet nothings in their befuddled ears before clobbering them.

Also turning up for a little sidebar seductive, possible femme fatale moonshine noir, is Maggie (Jessica Chastain), a 'feather dancer' fleeing Chicago and bearing dark secrets. Along with Shia object of forbidden desire Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), the sheltered preacher's daughter apparently not above being tempted by the infatuated aspiring anti-hero, into a little religious rebellion.

As intermittently over the top gratuitous as the rural red state versus big city blue state beatdowns may be in Lawless, it's more often than not tempered by being viewed through a cinematically boozed laced imagination. And a goofy case of those subversive siblings falling now and then for their own legends of hereditary superhuman indestructibility surrounding them, that go down nicely as a chaser of flavorful backwoods lore.

The Weinstein Company
Rated R
3 stars

Prairie Miller is a NY multimedia journalist online, in print and on radio, and on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network's Arts Express. Read more reviews by Prairie Miller. Contact Prairie through NewsBlaze. Read more stories by Prairie Miller.

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