The Bondurant brothers of Franklin County, Virginia. Famous for their Moonshine and infamous for their brutality. Three men who became legends among bootleggers for being willing to go further then anyone else to achieve their goals. The brothers are Jack(Shia LaBeouf) the youngest of the three, Howard(Jason Clarke) the oldest and a drunk who drinks more then his fair share of the supply, and finally Forrest(Tom Hardy) the muscle of the group, a hulking beast of a man who walks slowly and mumbles his words but when it comes to violence you see he is just a tightly wrapped spring ready to pounce at any minute.
The brothers have a very successful business in producing and selling Moonshine during the prohibition era, this all changes when Charlie Rakes(Guy Pierce) of Chicago comes to put a stop to the brothers lucrative business. He is a special deputy (a point which he makes clear several times throughout the film) and he too wants a cut of the towns illegal gains, unlike the rest of the towns bootleggers Forrest refuses to conform to Rakes demands because of the principal.
This starts a chain reaction which results in the spilling of much blood on either side of the law.
This is director John Hillcoat's third film and his second with singer-songwriter Nick Cave on script duties after their 2005 western masterpiece 'The Proposition'. Hillcoat is a very talented director, he brings a rough, physical edge to all his features and has gotten together another great cast to film 'Lawless'.
All of these positives point to Hillcoat going three for three in terms of his filmography, but 'Lawless' never reaches the stunning heights of 'The Proposition' or 'The Road', most of the blame for this has to go to Cave who spends to much time on the cliche ridden romance between Jack and local girl Bertha(Mia Wasikowska), these portions feel like the type of film we've seen thousands of times before. Cave should instead have focused on the complicated but always interesting relationship between Jack and Forrest, with the former wanting his brothers admiration and the older worried he will fall into the same cycle of violence that he has.
Jessica Chastain is brought into the film as a mediator and a potential love interest but is severely underused, an actress of her considerable talents should not be given such light-weight materiel when we have seen her in tough but brilliant roles like 'Take Shelter', but the most shocking use of any actor of the whole year has to be Gary Oldman who shows up for a pitiful two scenes in the first half and is never seen again.
'Lawless' does have a several good performances, especially notable are Shia LaBeouf who gives his best performance in years and reminds us that he can actually act, another star here is Tom Hardy an actor who has yet to disappoint and proves himself once again to be one of the most compelling actors of his generation with his performance as Forrest, a conflicted, tortured man who see's violence as the only way to resolve his problems. The real star of the show here is Pierce who plays Rakes to perfection by not overstepping the line and falling into pantomime. Rakes is a despicable creature, with his shaved eyebrows and parted hair he always keeps up a tangible air of creepiness, you know this a man who is willing to commit horrible deeds in order to satisfy himself.
'Lawless' is a brutally violent, well acted western. A film which is quite similar in style to HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire' but does not match up in substance. Its let down by a week ending which serves to undo all the good work which came before it. A good but flawed third feature from Hillcoat.