Review: Mason jars of hooch validate Lawless

Forrest (Tom Hardy) explains the art of becoming a mean moonshiner to little brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf).

Lawless (R, 116 minutes): A few minutes into a movie, you can usually identify with the acting. Or the setting. Or the music.

In Lawless, it was a prop — the Ball Mason glass jar. It made a frequent, nondescript  appearance in the movie, but I immediately got the context of what was going on.

Growing up, the Ball Mason glass jar was always there for us — whether your mom used it as a fruit jar to store canned peaches or your dad used it to store screws and nails. Or it was handy as a drinking glass, to take a snort of sweet tea.

Or, as it was used in Lawless, to take a swig of hooch.

That attention to detail validated my interest in Lawless so much that I watched it twice. The movie had strong characters (Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Gary Oldman) acting in a strong plot (moonshining in Depression-era rural Virginia),  but the Mason jar brought everything into focus.

Based on a novel by Dallas resident Matt Bondurant, Lawless centers around his family, a bootlegging clan that is cashing in on Prohibition. Local lawmen and gangsters also have deals going with the bootleggers, but the Commonwealth of Virginia decides to get tough and horn in.

Bad guys make or break any movie. Pearce’s Special Detective Charlie Rakes kept your attention on whether a showdown with Hardy’s Forrest Bondurant was looming.

Rakes seemed like he stepped out of a Dick Tracy comic, being all violent and brutish. Hardy, continuing his role as a hulking presence (he was Bane on The Dark Knight Rises), looked like a beefed-up and brooding Garth Brooks.

LaBeouf plays Jack Bondurant, who is chasing validation from his he-man brothers while chasing the affection of a German Baptist preacher’s daughter named Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).

LaBeouf strikes up a special relationship with Tommy Gun-toting mobster Floyd Banner. From there, you’ve got romantic subplots, brass knuckles, bluegrass hootnannys, backwater car chases, fistfights, German Baptist hymns, moonshine stills, pomade, dynamite, a shotgun firefight.

As the credits rolled, Virginia bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley‘s White Light/White Heat played. I thought of Stanley’s music in O’Brother, Where Art Thou? (O Death).

So much of O’Brother was quirky but needed validation — the props and music (pomade and bluegrass music and Baptist hymns) did exactly that. Must be a Southern thang. It also might explain my fascination with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Whatever, it made me thristy for a swig of sweet tea from a Mason jar.

BEST TIME FOR A BATHROOM BREAK OR REFILL: It depends on what size drink you’ve had. According to, 48 minutes in, Forrest tells his brother Howard that he needs to deal with some guys from Chicago. Also, 70 minutes in, Jack’s narration of the bootlegging coming to a stop is a good cue.

TAKE THE KIDS? Nah. Leave them at home. The violence is bad enough, but the cursing seemed out of the time period. I don’t remember hearing such words until the 1960s.

DATE MOVIE? Meh. The two romantic subplots might be a payoff for the cool gunfights, especially the one with Floyd Banner firing off his Thompson submachine gun.

WAITING FOR THIS: Speaking of moonshining, I can’t wait for this movie.


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