Rising tension overcomes flaws in ‘Lawless’

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Most movies about Prohibition focus on bloody gangster wars in big cities, but “Lawless” brings the fight to rural Franklin County, Va.
That’s where the Bondurant family makes its living by turning corn into high-quality white lightnin’, and everybody’s buying, especially the police.
Life is good for Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), then a corrupt politician decides to take a share of the bootleggers’ profits.
Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is a fancy dresser from Chicago who’s come to teach the country boys a lesson about following orders.
He’s as mean as they come, but he has to be in order to make the tough-as-nails Bondurant clan seem likable by comparison. Rakes slowly cements his hold on the county’s moonshine business, while the Bondurants expand their operation.
The script by Nick Cave is based on Matt Bondurant’s novel, “The Wettest County in the World.” The story builds a sense of menace that inhabits even pleasant scenes between Jack and the object of his affection, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).
Forrest, the leader of the clan, has his own love interest in Maggie (Jessica Chastain), a refugee from big-city nastiness who finds herself in a new crop of trouble.
I wish the movie spent more time with Maggie and Forrest, because they’re far more interesting than the relationship between Jack and Bertha. In fact, I got tired of seeing LaBeouf on screen, since his character is so predictable in his youthful rashness.
Tension builds throughout “Lawless” and helps cover up several flaws. It’s a release when the final confrontation starts.
An epilogue tacked to the end lingers with too much narration, but it’s good to find out how the characters turn out.
With any film that’s “based on a true story,” you have to wonder how much is true and how much is Hollywood, but “Lawless” definitely gives viewers a sense of characters in a unique time and place.
I give “Lawless” a B minus.
It’s showing at the Cinemark in Tupelo, as well as Malcos in Oxford, Corinth and Columbus, and Hollywood Premier Cinemas in Starkville.
Look for movie reviews in Scene on Thursdays, and listen each Tuesday morning on Wizard 106.7 between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.