Cobwebs & Dust Bunnies

“Lawless” – A Review by Hillary Lutter

With seemingly all our friends attending the State Fair, the hubby and I decided we were long overdue for a “date night,” so Saturday night we headed off in the opposite direction, south to Mitchell, for dinner and a movie. The kong pao chicken, egg rolls and chardonnay were amazing as usual and the movie was also a great choice.

“Lawless” is one of those movies during which you don’t want to take a bathroom break. It’s one of those movies that you don’t forget about the minute you walk out the theatre door. It comes up in the back of your thoughts for days or weeks. Parts may make the faint of heart cringe — a lot, but you won’t be sneaking a peak at your cell phone, either.

It’s based on a true story and the historical novel “The Wettest County in the World,” written by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of one of the characters. The Bondurant brothers, Howard, the crazy one, Forrest, the muscle, and Jack, the runt, are legends of Franklin County, Va. It’s said that during Prohibition 99 out of 100 Franklin County residents were in some way connected to the moonshine trade. These brothers were the apparent lords of moonshining, said to be “invincible” — or so the story goes.

The stage is first set as the three brothers, as boys out in the pigsty, urge the youngest to shoot a pig. Unable to pull the trigger, Jack is forever labeled too delicate for the sometimes necessary brutality of men of their era, and of their future profession.

Years later, the boys are grown and you quickly understand the way the Bondurants are accustomed to Prohibition, where the sheriff and his deputy turn a blind eye in exchange for a couple cartons of swill. But their comfortable, easy-money world is quickly headed south.

After refusing to go along with a bribe by the district attorney to pay him a cut of all sales, Forrest makes it known among all his customers and competitors that the Bondurants will not back down. This puts a target on their heads and the hubristic Rakes on their trail like an ant on honey.

Jack finds out early on that the new law in town, the obsessive compulsive, immediately detestable Special Agent Charlie Rakes, means business when he visits the Bondurant’s crippled cousin Cricket in search of their still. Jack walks in on the confrontation and Rakes doesn’t hesitate to beat him to a bloody pulp.

One may expect the older brothers of the weaker Jack to be upset and take revenge on the agent, yet Forrest handles it in the Bondurant way. He makes it clear to Jack that he better not let anyone beat him like that ever again, and asks what he intends to do about it. It’s understood from then on, that while the brothers  do care about each other, they are each, to a certain extent, on their own.

The next such example is when oldest brother Howard fails to show up to an appointment with potential clients, instead getting drunk, Forrest ends up with his throat slit lying in the snow bleeding to death. Yet he miraculously wakes up at the local hospital.
Jack, who was always considered too weak to have much part in the family business, takes the opportunity, with the alpha male out of commission and Howard mostly drunk, to sell a big load to a vicious gangster. With the success of that mission under his belt Jack becomes a full-fledged moonshiner – all for the money, gangster clothes, cars and notoriety. The question is, will Jack ever be able to shoot the pig?

This movie is violent with a capital V. The brutality of their lives is intermixed with the softness of love interests and carefree moments. Whether that off mixture makes the encompassing savagery more or less disturbing is a matter of opinion.

I enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it. I consider it one of the best movies of 2012, but based on a glance at critiques online, it probably won’t win the acclaim I feel it deserves. Maybe I’m biased, as I lean towards the historically-based films and books. You decide for yourself, “Lawless” is now playing in both Huron and Mitchell.

However, if you shy away from violence, are very sensitive or have a very weak stomach, you may want to skip this one. But if not, “Lawless” is one of the good ones, even great, especially if you’re a fan of Westerns or gangster movies, as I am.


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