Shia Shines Telling Our Violent History
Prohibition created the perfect, deadly storm of violent criminals, speakeasies and crooked cops getting rich off the mess. This is the story of a real bootlegging band of brothers, one of whom earns the mythological status of “invincible" while mobilizing moonshine for a thirsty America.
In the hills of Virginia in the1930s live the Bondurant boys. The oldest is Forrest (Tom Hardy), the meanest is Howard (Jason Clarke) and the most romantic is Jack (Shia LaBeouf), who has a sparkle in his eye for sweet, virtuous Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).
The brothers could have been nice boys had they come-of-age in any other era. But Prohibition was the first opportunity for many of the poor, uneducated people of the hills to advance their status. The Bondurants were no different. This movie is based on the book The Wettest Country in the World written by Matt Bondurant, a descendent of the legendary whiskey-distillers.
This violent era boasted some really big guns with men who weren’t afraid to use them (or at least drank enough rotgut to dull their fear). Hunky Tom Hardy fits right in as the grunting, fearless man-imal. He is softened only briefly by Maggie (Jessica Chastain), a woman who let the big city "grind her down." She shows up almost magically to care for Forrest and ends up saving his life.
In what could be the best role of his career, Shia LeBeouf shines as the tenderhearted Jack, who doesn’t have a clue how to impress religious-waif Bertha, but will keep trying despite an embarrassing foot-bath-gone-wrong-incident during church. As Jack, Shia has finally come into his own, expanding and stretching with this complicated role of lover-turned-warrior. Though he’s played romantic leads before, his boyish face and foolhardy attitude always seemed to undermine any romantic appeal. Not here. Shia plays a boy becoming a man, right before our eyes, made stronger by the lovely young woman he so adores.
The Lawless musical score is well done by Australian indie rocker Nick Cave, who also penned the script. However, we think Mr. Cave should stick to music as his screenplays tend to stumble a bit like his bloody, bullet-riddled characters.
Bottom line: This movie is extremely violent. We’re talking slit throats, tar and feathering, castration and bullets by the thousands. If hyper-realistic violence with graphic blood and guts isn’t your thing, skip this movie. If you love to love Shia LeBeouf, go see it with a masculine shoulder to hide your eyes on during the difficult parts.
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company