John Hillcoat’s “Lawless”, an adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s ‘The Wettest County in the World’ is a vivid but violent film that tells the tale of three Bondurant brothers in Franklin, Virginia during the prohibiton era of the 1930s. Star Shia LaBeouf called it “messy, dirty, realistic … that’s the way Hillcoat does his violence”, and this will certainly be one of the bloodiest films you’ll see all year.
Based on a true story, the film follows Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke), who returned from the Great War affected by what he had seen, middle brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) who believes his own invincibility after surviving Spanish Flu, and the youngest Jack (LaBeouf), a sensitive but smart young man who desperately wants to be as brave as he believes his brothers are. The Bondurants have built a thriving business in the area selling their Moonshine but their fraternal bond is soon complicated by the arrival of corrupt Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (played by the deliciously evil Guy Pearce) and two young women, Maggie (Jessica Chastain) who has a secret past and catches the eye of guarded Forrest, and pious Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) whom Jack wants to court; and also by Jack’s decision to start his own bootlegging operation with best friend Cricket (Dane DeHann).
What makes this film so rich is the heart of the film; the three brothers. The cast told us that much of their brotherhood began during time spent together in the gym during pre-production. It paid off, as the connection between them was clear and honest, and we genuinely cared for them all. LaBeouf’s Jack is the youngest, smart but innocent, with an appetite for business rather than violence, but someone who wants his elder brothers to see him for the man he wants to become. After standing in the shadow of giant alien Transformers robots for several years, the young actor impresses in this lead role, shining even amongst several high profile actors. Hardy and Chastain are currently at the top of their games and have yet to take a wrong step in their respective careers. “Lawless” continues their winning streaks.
Wasikowska and Chastain have little to do, although Jack’s attempts to woo Bertha provide several of the lighter moments that this intense and brutal film needed. Wasikowska is a pleasure to watch as always, and Chastain has an obvious chemistry with Hardy that simmers for the entire film, a connection that doesn’t need an over the top buildup.
As the sweet and naive Cricket, promising newcomer DeHaan is excellent, taking a small role but creating one of the most memorable characters of the film. DeHaan’s star is rising fast, and “Lawless” is a film that will help to carry his star higher.
“Lawless” doesn’t do anything new for cinema, but is a genuinely fun and exciting film to watch. It will surely be a contender during awards season.