Gary Oldman as Floyd Banner (right) and, left, Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes in Lawless
Published: 6 September, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by John Hillcoat
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
The Prohibition Act not only gave American mobsters the fuel for an underground economy, it has been providing Hollywood with good copy ever since.
This latest addition to the canon has a new take on the tale: instead of being based in the speakeasies of Chicago, we are taken up into the rolling hills of rural America where homemade hooch was created, where the booze that kept dry America sozzled came from.
Author Matt Bondurant had heard the tales of his grandfather and his great-uncles and how they brewed up killer liquor and then raced through the backwoods on unmade tracks of Franklin County to flog the stuff.
Howard, Forrest and Jack run a successful bootlegging business and they had a fierce gameplan.
They’re not going to be bullied by either the forces of law and order – who were in the pay of gangsters – nor the Chicago mobsters themselves.
The three siblings, who think they are invincible after surviving the Great War and then the Spanish Flu that wiped out entire communities, aren’t afraid of law breaking.
We meet them as they hawk their own brew around the bars and clubs of the district. We learn that the hills of Franklin County are lit up at night by the fires under the copper stills as Prohibition makes such home industries extremely lucrative.
But things change when a new and corrupt lawman, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), comes to town, determined to get the bootleggers working for him – or smash them.
The Bondurant brothers are having none of it and thus start a feud of blood-curdlingly violent proportions. The Bondurants are legendary in the world of Prohibition America. They represent that frontiers-man ethos of the West, law-breakers who saw their behaviour not as immoral, rather that the law was wrong, not how they acted.
This film is very violent but not gratuitously so, and it has excellent performances all round – who could expect anything less from a cast that includes Pearce and Gary Oldman. It tells the story of gangsterism which takes us out of the mean streets of Chicago where men wear flash suits, to the source of the fun that was to be had in the speakeasies – the distillers themselves. It offers an alternative view, and has a touch of the classic Western about it.