Thrilling but violent moonshining film

Lawless Alliance Films Rating: 14A 115 minutes

In many ways Lawless is a good movie. But I say that with some hesitation because of the in-your-face violence.

It’s about a moonshining family in early 1930s Virginia. Based on a true story, it pits three brothers in the family against a corrupt local law enforcement official, played as a simpering dandy by a nasty Guy Pearce. You just know the first time you see him that Pearce’s character is going to get his.

The brothers, who apparently make the best hootch in the state, refuse to let Pearce take over their lucrative, illegal business. Tom Hardy (the bad guy in The Dark Knight Rises) is excellent as the oldest, virtually indestructible brother, dominating the film, although Shia LaBoeuf, as the youngest, is supposed to be the major character. Jessica Chastain is appealing, if somewhat unbelievable, as a glamorous Chicago dancer in backwoods Virginia. Gary Oldman shows up for a couple of sequences as a machine-gun toting gangster, but then seems to disappear.

There are plenty of bloody beatings, shootings, a graphic tar and feathering and worse as the two sides battle over the booze. Interestingly, this very American story is scripted by an Australian (Nick Cave), and directed by another Aussie (John Hillcoat).

If you can stand the violence and an often overpowering sense of dread, this is a well done dramatic film. It has solid acting from an excellent cast, great period atmosphere, complete with folksy music and artsy photography. But it is not easy to watch.

Rating: four deer out of five

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Alf Cryderman is a Red Deer freelance writer and old movie buff.