February 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 44°F


Review: ‘Lawless’ falls short with lackluster plot

When the citizens of Prohibition-era Virginia craved the sweet buzz of alcohol, they turned to the always-stocked Bondurant brothers. Based on the nonfiction novel “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant, “Lawless” is a glimpse of Prohibition from the eyes of the outlaws.

Three brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke), defy the law by selling moonshine.  However, when special agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a villainous lawman, becomes hell-bent on taking down the Bondurants, the feud that ensues among them is violent and, in most instances, repetitive. Each fight scene follows a similar pattern and eventually becomes less effective as a source of tension, which overshadows the historical authenticity of the original novel, written by a descendant of the Bondurants.

Despite these issues, the strong performances from the cast saved the weaker aspects from diminishing the movie as a whole. Jessica Chastain’s performance as Maggie Beauford, Forrest’s delicate romantic interest, is a perfect example of this. Even in the clichéd role of a beautiful woman misplaced in criminal life, she establishes depth through her chemistry with Hardy. At the center of the drama, she remains strong even in the face of sexual assault and brutal fights.

From a technical standpoint, the set design stays true to the 1920s. Each scene is convincing, from antique cars to rustic houses and even old-fashioned advertisements. Director John Hillcoat provides an excellent backdrop with vivid, colorful landscapes.

Though the strong set design and powerful performances from the cast make “Lawless” a credible Western film, the tedious fight scenes turn an otherwise compelling movie into one that is easily forgotten.

Overall rating: 2 ½ stars

Three brothers fight the law in order to thrive in their booze-selling business during the Prohibition era.