‘Lawless’ is a Depression-era Western about real-life moonshine bootleggers who meet their match in a Chicago deputy eager to share their profits.
The Western is a genre that never really goes out of style because audiences never get tired of a good ol' fashioned story about good guys vs. bad guys. The line between right and wrong may be a little blurry, but it's always clear with which side your alliance should lie. In Lawless, the featured brothers are lawbreakers, but their enemy lacks a code of honour or any shred of humanity.
The Bondurant brothers are legends in Franklin, VA – or at least two of them are. Forrest (Tom Hardy), having survived a fatal bout of Syphilis, is considered indestructible; and Howard (Jason Clarke) was the only man in his unit to survive an explosion, returning home in one piece. Meanwhile the youngest Bondurant, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), unhappily lives in their shadow, scheming ways to make a name for himself. The Bondurant boys are also known for being excellent bootleggers, which eventually gets the attention of a prohibition lawman (Guy Pearce) from Chicago. What ensues is a brutal battle of wills from which only one man will emerge.
The film is based on real-life, Depression-era siblings who were widely known roughnecks and moonshiners at the centre of the “Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy.” Teaming again with John Hillcoat, the director of his first feature and Western, The Proposition, songwriter Nick Cave adapted the screenplay from the novel, The Wettest County in the World, written by the grandson of one of the main characters. It’s difficult to know how much of the story is factual, but it is well-told visually and narratively.
What is an otherwise excellent picture is spoiled repeatedly by an insufficient performance by LaBeouf. Hardy is brilliant as the man of few words. With a single grunt, he conveys whole sentences; when he speaks, it’s meaningful and attention-grabbing. Pearce’s Charlie Rakes is a fearful villain, sporting the coldest stare and total lack of compassion. Barely recognizable, he intimidates most people into submission with threats that are from idle and gloves clearly meant to keep his hands clean during his dastardly deeds. Jessica Chastain plays a girl from the city come to bartend at the Bondurant’s tavern. Always exquisite, she’s obviously trying to escape a life in which her beauty had become a liability. Then there’s LaBeouf who sticks out like a sore thumb in his inadequacy to carry the role. He never appears comfortable in the part; probably because he’s not suited to play it.
Forrest is by far the best part of this film with a very memorable line in the last act related to the power of his own legend and Rakes is a close but disturbing second. In the end, the two men make formidable adversaries and give this film much of its strength.
Starring:Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain and Guy Pearce