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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton




Directed by John Hillcoat (2012)

In Prohibition America the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia were lit up like a Christmas tree by the fires of illicit stills. Franklin County, in the foothills, became known as the Moonshine Capital of the World, and that’s where Lawless is set.

Prohibition, if no good for anything else, has been great for gangster movies, but Lawless is different, focusing as it does on a less glamorous, if no less violent, side of the bootleg liquor industry.

The Franklin County drinks industry forms a kind of black economy within a black economy. Potential profits for the city gangsters, not to mention the corrupt cops, are leaking away here, particularly into the pockets of the Bondurant brothers, Forrest, Howard and Jack.

A crackdown comes in the shape of Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a sinister and sadistic special deputy whose idea of enforcing alcohol prohibition is to demand protection money from the moonshiners under the threat of extreme violence.

This works fine until Rakes meets the resistance of the Bondurants whose business has flourished thanks to the higher quality liquor produced by their talented disabled head distiller Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan) and the patronage of big-time bootlegger Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman).

Elder brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) who seems to believe his indestructible reputation, middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke), the muscle, and little brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf), seizing all the rites of passage he can get his hands on, are formidable adversaries. Many bloody shootings, beatings-up and terror tactics ensue. Cricket’s spirit proves an ideal preservative for loose body-parts posted as warnings.

All this, along with some unconvincing love-interest, is the main burden of Lawless, which has been criticised for its macho swaggering. But it does, at least, provide the protagonists with a pretext that has political implications, even if those implications are glossed over in all the action and adventure.

Forrest says he has to “control the fear”. Lose that, and he’s as good as dead. This is the ruling logic of prohibition, of the unregulated market that inevitably results. Outlaw alcohol and you kick open the door to corruption, you allow the brutal law of fear to reign. And the same goes for the drugs that remain prohibited today.

September 17, 2012

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