This movie just works is an understated way which moves at a pace which doesn’t outrun itself of get clogged down in slow tedium, it brings you along with the story and keeps you always wanting to see how a particular scene works out. I was happy to see it was based on a book (The Wettest County in the World, Matt Bondurant), which might be worth buying. Nick Cave (The Proposition, 2005) wrote the screenplay.
I mention The Proposition because the Director on that project was John Hillcoat (The Road, 2009), who ofcourse directed this offering. Set in Franklin County, Virginia during the prohibition years of the Great Depression it tracks the lives of the Bondurant brothers who apart from running a diner and garage just outside town also are some of the leading moonshiners in the county. The brothers are led by the quiet and cautious brother Forrest,(Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises, Bane See below) who despite his calm demeanour is more than capable of swift well aimed violence. The middle brother , Howard (Texas Killing Fields, 2011) and of course the youngest of the clan, Jack (Shia LaBeouf Transformers, 2007) who as with all in his position wants to grow up fast and show the world that he is as good as the rest of the family.
The problems start when the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia bring a new Special Deputy down from Chicago, Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce, Lockout 2012)brought in Commonwealth’s Attorney. Fighting an honest lawman is one thing, or living with the local police who know when not to take action is manageable, but Rakes is a crocked as the rest and more vicious than most. Forrest has built up a business by being careful and steady while younger brother Jack is headstrong and eager to succeed.
This of course causes some tensions with Forrest having to clean-up after Jack more than once. Jack however manages to do business with the Chicago mafia, represented by a very under used Gary Oldman (Dead Fish, 2005), if I have one complaint is it the use of Mr. Oldman. His role is essentially a glorified cameo and although it works, I suspect he presence on set had a lot to do with box-office pull.
The movie progresses through a few short years as the brothers battle the police, other boot-legers and themselves until the final showdown. This comes quickly when it comes and is done well.
I mentioned the movie is understated, don’t mistake that for “slow” it is not a slow film, it is a steadily moving story which brings you along with the characters as the story moves along.
This is a good old fashioned prohibition era gangster movie, Mr. Gagney would have worked well here. The cinematography works well with the director using the natural cycles of the surrounding countryside to mark the passing of time. The use of various signs and props also allows us to almost get a feeling of normality as life goes by.