Mini-Review: ‘Lawless’ (2012)

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Directed by John Hillcoat, 2012’s film Lawless is already largely forgotten and obscure, but not deservedly so. The film is an adaptation of the historical novel The Wettest County in the World which tells of the real-life experiences of the Bondurant brothers (Forrest, Howard, and Jack) who produced moonshine during Prohibition in rural Virginia.

The film begins by establishing that Franklin County was home to a multitude of moonshine operations which supplied nearby cities with much-desired homemade gin and other spirits. Local law enforcement officers were bought off and posed no threat to the local operations. All was at peace.

The film’s central conflict begins when the state government of Virginia decides that it wants a cut of the action, and sends Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce), a dandy from the city, to ensure that the local bootleggers include corrupt state officials in their profit-sharing.

The Bondurant brothers, led by Forrest, refuse to cooperate, and a gang war of sorts is set off between the remaining independent bootleggers and the corrupt forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

At first Rakes suggests to the local Sheriff that they simply murder those who are uncooperative, but the sheriff makes it clear that law enforcement officials who abuse their power in Franklin County will find themselves hanging from a tree. In other words, government officials in Franklin County can’t count on their badges to protect them.

Meanwhile, the Bondurants only seek to provide a service to the market in peace, while the state, it the form of Special Deputy Rakes, not taking the Sheriff’s advice, takes to brutal beatings and murders to gain a foothold in the region.

Eventually, the Bondurants rally a mob to end the rule of Rakes and his state allies in Franklin county, returning the area to a state of self-government.

While perhaps not one of the best films of the year, the acting is excellent, and the story is compelling. The fight scenes are not-overly long.

Rated R for numerous depictions of brutal violence.

Score:  I give Lawless 3 out of 4 Rothbards for anti-Drug War messages, craven, petty and violent government agents, heroic entrepreneurs, and family solidarity.

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5:39 pm on June 26, 2013