Sunday, September 2, 2012


Give me a well-made genre movie any day of the week over a capital-F Film with unrealized pretensions to art. “Lawless” knows exactly what it is: a family-of-moonshiners crime saga set in the Prohibition-era mountains of Virginia, with a good simpering fop of a villain, a love interest or two, and a healthy helping of humor. Shia LaBeouf makes a serviceable lead as Jack Bondurant, the keen, puppyish younger brother to Tom Hardy’s Forrest, the opaque and obstreperous leader of this stilling syndicate (Forrest doesn’t so much talk to another person as grunt in his or her general direction). Hardy, hamstrung by his mask as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” has the chance to show command of the screen here, and does.

Guy Pearce plays the dandyish Special Deputy Charley Rakes, in from Chicago to bring down the brothers, and it’s a deliciously unctuous role. (So many genre flicks run aground for lack of a decent dastard.) The near-ubiquitous Jessica Chastain does a creditable job as Maggie, the city-fleeing barmaid who wends her way into Forrest’s bed. Like almost everything else in “Lawless,” you’ve seen her character a hundred times. But there’s still joy to be had in a simple story well told and brought to life by consummate pros (Gary Oldman turns up as a Chicago capo, and Mia Wasikowska plays LaBeouf’s coy eventual love interest). “Lawless” keeps itself on the audience’s good side throughout; it pays justice to the brutal violence of its world without being gratuitous, and throws in some laughs (Forrest’s seeming indestructibility generates several of them) without being winky or flip.

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