out of Five
Running time: 116
By turns gripping, darkly funny, emotionally engaging and extremely violent, Lawless is a well made, beautifully shot and superbly acted bootlegging drama with a terrific score by screenwriter/composer Nick Cave.
What's it all about?
Directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road), Lawless is based on the true story related in the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, a descendant of the main characters. Set in 1931 in Franklin County, Virginia, the film stars Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke as Jack, Forrest and Howard, the bootlegging Bondurant brothers, who incur the wrath of vicious city cop Agent Rakes (Guy Pearce) after they refuse to pay him protection money.
When Rakes decides to take down the Bondurant brothers, his ruthless actions ignite a cycle of shocking violence and the stage is soon set for a climactic showdown. Meanwhile, Jack attempts to show Forrest he can handle the family business by making a deal with mobster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), while both Jack and Forrest also have their hands full with romantic relationships: Jack with rebellious preacher's daughter Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) and Forrest with feisty barmaid Maggie (Jessica Chastain), who's come to Franklin County to escape her shady past.
Tom Hardy is terrific as Forrest, making him a consistently intriguing character, from the ever-present cardigan he wears (which has already earned the nickname 'The Hardigan'), to his frequent use of bemused, comically monosyllabic grunts, to his bursts of efficient violence and his propensity for believing his own legend of indestructibility. Similarly, LaBeouf holds his own as the ambitious younger brother, generating strong, likeable chemistry with both Wasikowska and Dane DeHaan (as Jack's disabled inventor genius friend Cricket).
In addition, Jessica Chastain delivers a quietly devastating performance as Maggie, while Guy Pearce makes a splendidly hissable villain as the fastidious Rakes and Oldman makes a strong impression in what is essentially a three scene cameo as Banner.
Nick Cave's strongly character-focused script does an excellent job of balancing moments of humour and romance with often shocking violence, while also turning the idea of the Bondurants' enduring invincibility legend into a brilliant running joke. In addition, Hillcoat's direction is assured throughout, bringing a chilling sense of chaos to the violence, particularly in the unconventionally staged final shoot-out.
On top of that, the film is beautifully shot, with Benoît Delhomme's gorgeously pastoral cinematography making strong use of its lush-looking woodland locations (Georgia standing in for Virginia). There's also a fantastic score, courtesy of Nick Cave, doubling up on composer duties as well as writing the screenplay.
Lawless is a gripping, well made drama with terrific performances and a superb script and one hell of a cardigan. Not only will you want to buy the soundtrack, you'll also want to buy the cardigan. Highly recommended.