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Capone loved the authentic toughness of LAWLESS and will take a Tommy gun to anyone who disagrees!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

I'll be up front about this: Any film that centers on my chosen profession of bootlegging warms my heart something fierce. Although the real-life Bondurant gang of Franklin County were about running moonshine throughout southern Virginia (as opposed to my own practice of bringing Canadian whiskey into our fine nation), I admire their industrious spirit and their tenacity. Hell, the Capone name even comes up a couple of times in the movie LAWLESS, based on the author Matt Bondurant's novel "The Wettest County in the World," a fictionalized tale of his grandfather and his two brothers and their adventures during the country's darkest hour, known as Prohibition.

The word that kept popping into my head as I watched LAWLESS was "authentic." Despite some plot elements being fictionalized by either the author or screenwriter Nick Cave, the movie feels like an accurate account of the times, if not always the actual events. This period in Bondurant's family history simply weren't chronicled, so with only a few key moments of record, he built the connective tissue of the conflict between the Bondurant brothers and the crooked Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (a ferocious and twisted Guy Pearce), who was actually from the area and not Chicago, as the movie claims (even we don't build them quite as messed up as this version of Rakes).

Rakes is essentially looking for protection money, which most of the area bootleggers give up, with the exception of the Bondurants. As a result, Rakes declares full-on war against the brothers, led by the seemingly indestructible Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and reckless Jack (a reborn Shia LaBeouf playing Matt's grandfather). Jack manages to get the family's smalltown distribution chain some much bigger exposure by getting into business with Chicago gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). Unfortunately, that exposure makes the brothers a bigger target for Rakes, which turns a manageable beef into a bloody war.

Director John Hillcoat (THE PROPOSITION, THE ROAD) has a gift for adding depth and emotion to stories that might have been emptier in other hands. In LAWLESS, he paints a landscape that features real consequences to foolish business moves on Jack's part, or tragedy that comes as the result of Howard's drinking problem. There are levels to this tale that Hillcoat is not afraid to explore and, in some cases, destroy.

Like Hillcoat's other work, the supporting characters in LAWLESS do more than just act as highlights to the lead actors. They provide a real backbone to the story and provide a great deal of motivation. Jessica Chastain plays the mysterious Maggie, a former "dancer" from Chicago who has come to Franklin County for a quieter life and ends up working in the Bondurant filling station/restaurant and sweetly falls in with Forrest. Mia Wasikowska is sweet as Bertha, Jack's love interest who comes from a severely religious family and brakes all sorts of rules to spend time with this showy would-be gangster.

One of my favorite performances in LAWLESS comes from Dane DeHaan as Cricket, a sort of adopted younger brother to the Bondurants who also has a gift for rigging up moonshine stills and just about anything else mechanical. DeHaan made a real impact with me as the super-powered kid gone bad in CHRONICLE earlier this year, and as the troubled gay teen in the final season of HBO's "In Treatment." He's a gifted young actor with a limitless future ahead of him if he continues to be this smart about the roles that he takes.

Most people going into LAWLESS will be doing so to see the continued upward climb of Tom Hardy as a force of nature. As much of a badass as he is here, more often than not, he also provides a great deal of the comic relief in the film. Forrest's "dialogue" consists largely of grunts and groans, although we know exactly what he's taking about and how he feels about everything he's commenting on. I don't think Hardy smiles once in the movie, and the scenes in which Chastain is basically throwing herself at him are both charming and humorous because he is so nervous.

LAWLESS is both about building up the mythology around the Bondurants during this time and tearing it down, showing them as both the legends they were and the very flawed humans behind that legend. The violence hits hard, as it should, but there's enough of a compelling story in between the shoot-outs, stabbings, and other unpleasant behavior to make this one worth checking out this heightened, but always believable, story.

-- Steve Prokopy
"Capone"
capone@aintitcool.com
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