At its core, the Prohibition moonshine-and-brass-knuckles saga “Lawless” is a movie about three entrepreneurs. Not quite an instructional how-to business flick, but the Saturnian themes of persistence, survival and ends justifying the means are as rampant and hardcore here as the violence.
The movie – based on a real-life family and set primarily in Franklin, Virginia, in the 1930s – is the tale of the three Bondurant brothers. Unlike their bootlegging neighbors, the siblings, on principle, refuse to share any profits to pay off a corrupt Chicago law enforcement agent (Guy Pearce) for unrestricted access through the county. Their decision casts them apart, which means they’ll have to build their business as rogue operators.
Howard (Jason Clarke), the hot-tempered middle sibling, enjoys his hootch a bit too much. Jack (Shia LaBoeuf), the youngest and most carefree, is acutely aware of having to prove himself and his commitment to his brothers. Forrest (Tom Hardy), the oldest, is the de facto CEO – Saturn likes running the show with discipline and organizational flair. And the taciturn Forrest makes his few words – another Saturnine trademark – count.
At one low point, Forrest tells Jack they’re survivors, an indisputably Saturnine term. “We control the fear,” he says, adding that, if they don’t, the three of them are as good as dead. Later, Forrest continues the metaphor, telling Jack their endeavor is about principle, not money. Ultimately, “Lawless” hones in on loyalties, extremely hard work, and getting back on the proverbial horse after crises involving beatings, a throat slashing, loss of friends, and all with lawmen in hot pursuit.
Directed by John Hillcoat, “Lawless” is gorgeous to look at with a spirited soundtrack. Unlike “Bonnie and Clyde,” whose protagonists’ criminal activity was motivated by the glamour of notoriety, “Lawless” features three brothers who are goaded by making a living and being the best at what they do. And true to Saturn, which values tradition and being respected above all else, the trio will eventually settle into a tamer domestic lifestyle which they approach with a similar Saturn-inspired intent.
The business lesson here is being flexible enough to roll with economic vicissitudes. Even criminal livelihoods needs good management to flourish.
Rating: ♄ (Saturn)