As the dust settles from 2012’s summer blockbusters, autumn’s onslaught rolls in with prohibition-era drama Lawless. The film charts the trials and tribulations of the ‘immortal’ Bondurant brothers from Franklin County Virginia – otherwise known as Hollywood’s man of the moment, Tom Hardy and the suitably established Shia LaBeouf.
Against the backdrop of America in the grip of the Depression, fearsome Forrest (Hardy), ex-soldier Howard (Jason Clarke) and apparent misfit Jack (LaBeouf) are top dogs when it comes to bootlegging from their local bar. Life seems grand until Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) and Attorney Mason Wardell (Tim Tolin) arrive with ideas of taking a cut in the moonshiners’ profits. The Bondurant boys refuse to cave to the corrupt law forces with Forrest sending the officers packing, sparking the focal feud of the feature.
As other bootleggers cave, Jack attempts to prove his worth by striking up a partnership with Chicago gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) with Rakes determined to bring the brothers down. With business flourishing and Rakes receiving none of the proceeds, the brothers enter into a brutal war testing their supposed immortality as Forrest focuses on protecting new waitress Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) – a dancer from Chicago. Both sides of the battle aim to force the other into submission until the war invokes the rage of the community, culminating in a climactic finale.
With a stellar cast portraying this engaging tale – based on a true story – it would be easy for Lawless to suffer from expectation. However, there are many reasons why these actors’ stocks are so high, and the film only offers the opportunity to demonstrate exactly why. LaBeouf is mesmerising in a more serious role than usual, with as much power behind his emotional performance as each punch thrown, but not without moments of his trademark charismatic humour.
Fresh from his acclaimed turn as super-villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy plays the leading and ominously brooding Forrest, menacing from his opening gambit. Hardy’s performance is just as powerful for its quiet vengeful brutality as it is for the unspoken brotherly bond held together by Forrest.
His tough-man exterior belies the damaged character beneath; he has spent so long building walls that he appears instantly out of his depth when someone sneaks their way in.
Opposing the Bondurants is Guy Pearce on the back of his brief Prometheus appearance. The Englishman puts in a captivating performance, oozing corruption and inspiring loathing from his first frames, setting up an engaging battle between the two sides.
John Hillcoat’s direction is solid, with a number of enthralling battle scenes interweaved with lacings of emotional punch to draw viewers in. The film runs just shy of two hours, and this is the only downside to an otherwise impressive story of vengeance, family ties and good versus evil.
As each side strikes retaliating blows, the climax appears to rush into view, leaving the audience clamouring for the tit-for-tat to continue rather than culminate.
Best Performance: Shia LaBeouf – Hardy’s reputation may be skyrocketing in tinsel town at present, but LaBeouf’s portrayal of Jack Bondurant serves up as powerful a punch as Hardy’s character could muster.
Best Scene: Easily the finale. After the vengeance war crosses a line, LaBeouf, Pearce and Hardy combine brilliantly in a show of anger, retribution and defiance.
Watch if you liked:Gladiator, 300, V for Vendetta