“Lawless” has the potential to be a really fine movie, in the genre of backwoods feud films like “Winter’s Bone,” which was shot in the areas around Branson and Forsyth, Missouri. But bad casting and a script that has patently unbelievable elements make this violent motion picture a disappointing, under-achieving effort.
Loosely based on a book called “The Wettest County in the World,” by Matt Bondurant, “Lawless” is about Bondurant’s Grandfather, Forrest, played blandly by Tom Hardy, who grunts a lot, and his two brothers Jack and Howard. Jack is played by Shia LaBeouf and Howard, a simple-minded young man with a disability, is portrayed by Jason Clarke. They are big-league moonshiners during Prohibition in Franklin County, Virginia.
When an eccentric, dishonest Federal officer from Chicago, played by Guy Pearce, moves into the small town to try to cut in financially on the illegal brew, things get messy. Forrest is a man who doesn’t accommodate people taking some of his profits, so the war is on.
One of the few things that makes sense in this movie is the relationship between Jack and the daughter of a church-going farmer, played by Mia Wasikowska. When Jessica Chastain arrives in the film as an ex-Chicago stripper who wants a simpler life and goes to work for Forrest in his gas station/restaurant (sort of Prohibition era version of The Cracker Barrel) the film’s already paper-thin credibility gets stretched to the limit. There are so many incredulous incidents in this script it is almost laughable, especially the film’s ending-epilouge.
The best thing about “Lawless” are its production values, which are outstanding. In that respect, it is a good looking picture.
Now, if they could only figure out a way to re-write and re-cast it. My recommendation? Rent “Winter’s Bone” instead.