I am not a Shia LeBeouf fan. I’ll come right out and say it. The last role I liked him in was Even Stevens, other than that he has pretty much been ruining movies for me with the exception of Holes. He was watchable in Transformers but let’s face it, it doesn’t take much skill to run around and yelled “BUMBLEBEE.” As much as I dislike Shia LeBeouf, I love Tom Hardy. There hasn’t been a single role I have disliked Tom Hardy in. When I saw the first commercial for Lawless I was torn. I did not want to go see a film with Shia LeBeouf but I did not want to miss a film with Tom Hardy in it. Eventually, my love for Tom Hardy overcame my aversion to Shia LeBeouf. I saw Laweless in theaters and I am extremely glad I did.
Lawless tells the story of the Bondurant brothers, famous Prohibition bootleggers from Franklin County, Virginia. Selling their moonshine to civilians and police officers alike, the brothers play by their own rules and ignore everything else. They are lawless. The operation is run by the quiet, eldest brother, Forrest Bondurant (Ton Hardy). Legend has it that Forrest is invincible, something he proves multiple times throughout the course of the film. A quiet but violent man who always has a set of brass knuckles handy, Forrest only shows his soft side when around Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). A city girl hired to work at the brothers gas station, Forrest and Maggie eventually foster a romantic relationship. Drunken and angry, the middle Bondurant, Howard (Jason Clarke), acts as the operations muscle. When angry, Forrest attacks enemies with fierce violence but for day to day issues, like lookout jobs, backup or dealing with the law trying to shake them down, Forrest leaves the muscle work to Howard.
The final and youngest Bondurant who serves as the main character for the film is Jack Bondurant (Shia LeBeouf). As Officer Charlie Rakes eventually says, Jack is the runt of the Bondurant litter. A young man who desperately wants to be a part of the family operation, Jack is given and takes as many chances as he can to help out his brothers. It becomes clear that Jack is not a fighter like his brothers are after a number of scenes were Jack is taken advantage of and often times brutally beaten. As Jack is allowed to participate in the business, he starts to think to highly and eventually puts himself, the woman he is courting, Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), his best friends that acts as his right hand man, Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan) and the entire operation in danger. Experience, anger and a personal assault on Cricket eventually ends up teaching Jack how to be a Bondurant and he steps up in the end of the film to try and save his reputation.
Though there are many characters, twists and turns, the plot of the film can be stripped down to some simple components. The films villain, Officer Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), is a special detective brought in front Chicago to end the bootlegging fiasco in the wettest county in America, Franklin County. Targeting every bootlegger in the county, including the Bondurants, Rakes goes to extreme lengths to destroy them. Attacking them from every angle, Rakes basically goes to war with the brothers, a war the Bondurants are happy to participate in. Each side takes shots at the other, fight with guns, knives, brass knuckles and fists, eventually coming to a final showdown one a bridge leading out of the County.
My only disappointment with this film was the fact that Gary Oldman was only in it for about five minutes. Playing Chicago gangster Floyd Banner, Jack and Cricket are obsessed with Oldman’s character and eventually end up selling him their moonshine. Every moment he is onscreen, Oldman is brilliant (as he always is) but the film’s advertisements suggested that Oldman had a large role in the film which was not the case. I found this to be very disappointing.
Other than a lack of Oldman, I can’t find much wrong with this film. Tom Hardy, though he plays a quiet character, gives one of my favorite roles of his career, breaking up his angry violent spells with moments of dry humor. Guy Pearce bring to life a villain with such brilliance that I hope a Best Supporting Actor nomination is in his future. Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain are both stunning and hold their own amongst the angry men, bringing notes of delicacy to the rough and tough film. Even Shia LeBeouf, who I expected to dislike in the film, did a good job. He portrayed Jack in the perfect light, allowing the audience to watch him grow up and stand up for himself by the end of the film.
Filled with beautiful scenery this film was an all around winner. Director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave made sure that the film wasn’t just about the fighting and violence, giving characters depth and playing with light and shadow at perfect times. As far as me liking the film and being entertained by it, Lawless gets a 5 out of 5. Looking at it being a good film, considering shot composition, directing, acting and writing I give this film a 4 out of 5, giving an overall 9 out of 10. The violence at times does get gratuitous and intense but if you can handle it, this film is a must see.