Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LeBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke
To make money during the depression, the Bondurant brothers (LeBeouf, Hardy, Clarke) have started a small bootlegging operation in Virginia. This small enterprise is soon threatened by the mob in the form of Charlie Rakes (Pearce), a Chicago gangster sent to stomp out the small bootleggers unwilling to go along with the mob rules. Now they’re going head to head with Rakes and his small army in an effort to defend their livelihood.
John Hillcoat is not a huge name in Hollywood. His better known work includes The Proposition and The Road. So this film is a big step forward, filled with big names like Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Shia LeBeouf (Transformers: Dark of the Moon). The film also stars Guy Pearce (The Hurt Locker), Jessica Chastain (The Help), and Jason Clarke (Public Enemies). The screenplay for this film was written by Nick Cave (The Proposition), and is inspired by the novel The Wettest County in the World. The novel was written by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of Jack Bondurant, one of the Bondurant brothers portrayed in the film.
This is a gritty and dark film from the very beginning. Clarke and Hardy really anchor the harsh reality of the business of bootlegging, while Shia LeBeouf takes on a gentler role. Together they do a great job portraying a family with a lot of issues and one common goal. The other stars of the film do a good job as well. Jessica Chastain seems to be more beautiful in this movie than I recall having seen her before. Opposite these four is Guy Pearce who does an incredible job as the cruel mob enforcer. Overall, a pretty good cast who did a great job with their parts.
The film does a good job portraying the prohibition era in bootlegging country. From the sets and vehicles, to the clothing and hairstyles, this movie seems to capture the moment in time as well as most gangster style films.
The flaws in this movie come from a story that feels incomplete. The climax of the film feels weak compared to the relative intensity of the other parts of the film. This is unfortunate since the film has so much material to work with in the era and subject matter. It doesn’t make this a bad movie, but it does keep it from being a great film. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “If Lawless doesn’t achieve the mythic dimensions of the truly great outlaw and gangster movies, it is a highly entertaining tale set in a vivid milieu, told with style and populated by a terrific ensemble. For those of us who are suckers for blood-soaked American crime sagas from that era, those merits will be plenty.”
Overall, this is a movie that should appeal to fans of gangland films like Public Enemies or The Untouchables. It’s got a fair amount of action as well as an interesting story to go along with it. I would definitely keep this movie for an adult crowd due to the action and violence throughout. I give this one 3.8 out of 5 stars.