Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce
Running Time: 115 min
Release: 7 September
Lawless tells the (somewhat) true story of the Bondurant brothers (played by Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy) who ran a bootlegging operation in 1930s Virginia during American prohibition. Their way of life comes under threat when a sinister special agent named Rakes (Guy Pearce) is sent down to take a cut of their profits. When they refuse it sets off a chain of escalating violence which sets them against the corrupt authorities and an inevitable showdown with Rakes himself.
Thematically, Lawless share’s much in common with The Proposition, director Hillcoat’s previous collaboration with screenwriter Nick Cave. It tells another story of brotherhood, corruption and bloodshed in a dusty, oppressive world. And just like that film it simmers with an uneasy violent tension, the feeling that brutal bloodshed could erupt at any moment. And when it does—through the use of knuckle dusters, knives and guns—the film can be bruising to watch (it’s definitely not for the weak of stomach).
While Lawless doesn’t impress in quite the same way as their last outing—it covers ground that has been well trod in many other gangster films—it shines in two key areas. One is in the impressive production design, the setting being just as important a character as any of the leads. You can really feel the dust and grime of the environment and the attention to period detail, from the costumes to the props and music, all contributing to a sense of immersion in that world.
The second area Lawless excels is the ensemble cast, who all do fine work. Guy Pearce is clearly having a blast with his role as the lizard like Agent Rakes, making for a magnetic presence whenever he’s on screen. Tom Hardy continues to impress with his low key turn as the seemingly unkillable Bondurant brother Forrest, whose hulking frame masks a gentle nature. Shia LaBeouf performs well in the lead role as the youngest brother, but is hampered by the fact his character is by far the least engaging in the story. His romantic subplot with Mia Wasikowska adds little, and his “boy becomes man” arc is predictable from the word go.
In spite of its faults Lawless is a stylish and brutal gangster film with some great performances and assured direction. Anyone suffering from summer blockbuster fatigue and looking for something a little more grown up, this is the film for you.