Love tries to outshine pools of blood in “Lawless”

Nathan Fisher

Illustration: Julie Peterson

Unfortunately, none of this week’s new movie releases excited me. The best of the bad seemed to be “Lawless,” a movie that couldn’t quite figure out if it wanted to be a gangsta, hillbilly or period flick.

“Lawless” follows the Bondurant brothers and their moonshining business in Virginia. The trio includes Forrest (Tom Hardy, most recently Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”), the leader of the brothers who is reportedly immortal; Jack (Shia LaBeouf, “Transformers” guy), the youngest bro who thinks he knows everything; and Howard (Jason Clarke), the muscle of the gang, who can lift a man above his head with one hand. The family’s loyalties are tested when the evil Special Agent Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes to town to clean up the streets––or get a cut of the business. “Cleaning” the streets is a dirty business, and Agent Rakes may have met his match with the Bondurant boys, the only bootleggers not willing to pay him off. This insolence, of course, results in torture with pots of hot tar––you know, the basic “do you get my point now?” stuff.

“Lawless” tries to add some spice to the classic Prohibition movie by throwing in love interests for a couple of the boys. Forrest gets cozy with the sometimes-naked waitress, Maggie (Jessica Chastain), and LaBeouf tries to court the not-so-naked preacher’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska). Although “Lawless” tries to soften the dark side of the business with the ladies, the movie just cannot seem to help itself from oozing blood. A pop to the face brings blood gushing from the nose and mouth; a slit throat brings, yes, lots of blood, but with added gurgling sounds; and body parts are excised with … blood flowing.

“Lawless,” even with blood taking center stage, boasts an all-star cast who all seem to have had different dialect coaches. LaBeouf surprised me the most, sporting a Southern accent, but I kept expecting to see him trying to yell over Optimus Prime fighting the evil Transformers. Hardy’s southern drawl is punctuated with grunts as he punches out teeth and pummels with his brass knuckles. Pearce, playing an evil and annoying character, is spot-on; and, as usual, Gary Oldman is dynamite playing a classic Prohibition gangster.

All in all, even with the pools of blood littering the fight scenes and the fluctuating dialects of the actors, I enjoyed this gangster-hillbilly almost-true story. Less gratuitous blood and a better ending would have made it a hit for me.