Director John Hillcoat has been on a roll. His previous feature films, 'The Proposition' (written by fellow Aussie, musician Nick Cave) and 'The Road,' were some fantastic, if grim, offerings. Reuniting with Cave, he gives us a slightly more mainstream offering, 'Lawless.'
Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke), and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) are the Bondurant brothers. These fellows are Virginia bootleggers during Prohibition. This is good money and relatively easy. Young Jack wants to be more involved in the business much to the chagrin of his older brothers, especially Forrest.
Things are made more challenging when Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) arrives on the scene to clean up these bootleggers. He aggressively goes after everyone running moonshine and learns of the Bondurants' legend.
Will our loveable rogues continue to get away with it?
Yes, once again, we are romanticizing outlaws. It is one of the oldest storytelling tricks in the book. Take perpetrators of a non-violent crime who are rebelling against a ludicrous (and subsequently abolished) law and portray them as charming fellows from the wrong side of the tracks. This has the good sense to dabble into the concept of peoples' legends and how the subjects of these tall-tales can sometimes begin to actually believe them.
For the first half of the story, Hardy seems to be playing the most interesting character. He is certainly the most memorable of the brothers. LaBeouf's Jack is the runt of the litter who assumes more responsibility as the story progresses. He really comes of age. His love affair with the preacher's daughter Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) seems a bit forced. It's hard to really understand the mutual attraction there. Pearce gives us a worthy villain though he almost seems a little too over the top and one dimensional. The supporting cast really deserves a lot of credit here. It not only features Emmaus native Dane Dehaan, Gary Oldman has a small, but somewhat important role. Jessica Chastain (she is in everything these days) turns in some very good work here.
As you should expect from a Hillcoat film, this is very violent at times. The tone isn't overly dark, though, and this is certainly the most 'Hollywood' film he has done. We have a very traditionally structured story here. That's alright because there are still some nice surprises and the project was in very capable hands.
If you like gun battles and old-timey mobster happenings, you're in luck. It also explores the dichotomy between the 'hicks' distilling the moonshine and their big city counterparts. Those of you with a fascination for this period should be content.
Special features include: commentary, deleted scenes, a look at the true story, a look at the history of Franklin county, and a Willie Nelson music video.
'Lawless' is a very competently made historical crime story. It is well-worn territory and isn't quite on the same level as Hillcoat's other recent work, but it is more than serviceable.
Rated R 115 minutes 2012