“Lawless” is the true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. In this epic gangster tale, inspired by true-life tales of author Matt Bondurant’s family in his novel “The Wettest County In The World,” the loyalty of three brothers is put to the test against the backdrop of the nation’s most notorious crime wave.
Based on a 2008 book penned by Matt Bondurant called “The Wettest County in the World”, John Hillcoat merges the best of my cinema-watching world in combining a gangster movie and a western. Going in if for these reasons alone, I knew I would like Lawless. Nothing beats a good western other than maybe a good western with gangsters. Set in the twenties in Virginia, the movie oozes the era in a way that literally removes you from your seat and places you at the table with whiskey in front of you. You literally can feel the desperation of the era and the family it portrays. Eventually, that family decides that making moonshine is a better option and it is easy to understand how it could happen in desperate times like these.
Another good reason why the family is able to commit crimes yet stay sympathetic is because the lawmen are so corrupt. The movie is unflinching in the brutality of the times, and the family is far from without sin. This conflict of desperation and unfair law practices is what drives Lawless throughout. Few movies are as good as Lawless when it comes to atmosphere and action. The movie is like a bulldozer of emotions being shoved at you for the length of the movie.
The cast is another reason to love Lawless. First and foremost is Jessica Chastain. Her sultry character takes advantage of a meaty role and dominates the screen during every scene she is involved in. Chastain was awesome in Tree of Life, but she is even better in Lawless. Gary Oldman is excellent in a quickie role as a mobster. Dane DeHaan stands out as the mechanic for the boys and should get a nice kick for his career. The star of the movie, however, is Tom Hardy as Forrest Bondurant. Hardy steals the limelight from superstar Shia LaBeouf and does so with a presence that is hard to describe. Like his role behind Bane in the Dark Knight Rises, Hardy simply dominates the screen. The violence in the movie simply does not sit well on LaBeouf but it works great on Tom Hardy. Expect this young man to be a huge star for a very long time. He is already popping up in every movie it seems of late. After seeing Lawless you will understand why.
Lawless has some flaws though they are mostly because of the characterization. The movie clearly is focused on LaBeouf and though I am generally a fan, he did not warrant the spotlight in this movie. LaBeouf plays Jack, the youngest and wimpiest of the brothers in the movie. He is simply a moonshine runner until a tail whipping toughens him up and wins him some importance in the gang. The problem is, the movie focuses so sharply on Jack that the other characters are largely undervalued. They simply do not get enough screen time in the movie. If the movie had shared the spotlight a bit more, the entire cast would have benefitted including LaBeouf.
Despite these problems, Lawless is still a sweeping epic period piece that puts you right in the thick of what must have been a nightmare time to live in. The people, places and problems are all felt strongly, and the backdrop for the movie is brilliantly on display. If you truly want to know what it might have been like to live in this time period, Lawless is a great place to start.
Lawless rates very highly on my scale primarily because of the excellent bit roles, fantastic backdrop and scenery and the awesome storyline that is portrayed. It is very easy to get caught up in and it represents a fantastic Friday night out at the theater.