This gritty film follows the Bondurant brothers, who start running moonshine ever since prohibition fell upon the USA. Things get rather rough though as the local law enforcement start cracking down on them. A psycho special deputy from Chicago, Charlie Rakes(Guy Pearce) comes into town and is not afraid to use violence and murder to stomp out moonshiners. The film is directed by John Hillcoat who brought us The Road, he adapted the book “The Wettest County in the World” which is “based on real life”, one can’t really ever believe that fully these days but whatever it still makes a great story.
What is interesting about Lawless is the film doesn’t really follow just one character, out of the three brothers the time is broken up between two of them. The intense leader of the group named Forest(Tom Hardy) who is so calm and brutal, every time he’s on screen you just know something is going down. We also follow the youngest brother Jack(Shia LaBeouf) who isn’t tough and doesn’t really enjoy violence, he is a kid wanting to play gangster. The third brother is more of a brute and a drunk, Howard(Jason Clarke) gets the lowest amount of screen time which is a shame because I like Clarke as an actor, he did great work on the short lived “Chicago Code” that ran on FOX for one season. The brothers story is very interesting because unlike other gangster movies this one isn’t very glamorous. Hillcoat does an amazing job of making the film feel like it was set in depression era Virginia.
The movie is decently violent at times but it feels rights here. Running moonshine would be very dangerous and especially out in the middle of the woods where anything can happen. The film really relies though on the performances. Jessica Chastain plays Maggie Beauford, a city woman who moved away from the craziness of the mob and falls in love with Forest. Hardy and Chastain work really well together and sadly the film pulls away from their connection. We spend a lot more time with Jack as he tries to date a pastor’s daughter. This is the main problem for the movie is it breaks up the stories too often and the flow never really feels right.
The films only real problem is Shia LaBeouf, he simply stands out here. Hardy and others do such stand out performances that seeing LaBeouf trying to be a tough guy almost takes you out of the movie. Now I’m not saying he’s terrible, he just doesn’t blend with the cast and he is the weakest point of the movie. The problem is he is essentially the lead. A performance that saves the entire movie is Guy Pearce who plays Rakes as such a nasty sucker you can’t help but smile every time he’s on screen.
Even with the faults the film is a nice treat for a summer filled with over the top CGI and fantastic action sequences. The action is this film feels so real. Towards the end of the film there is such a realistic shoot out where every bullet is dangerous and the men shooting do not want to get shot. Usually in action movies people unload not caring at all what happens. I’m hoping we see a lot more films from Hillcoat in the future because it’s obvious now that he has a lot of talent.