Based on the novel by Matt Bondurant, Lawless is the latest movie by acclaimed director John Hillcoat. Set in the great American depression, the story surrounds the Bondurant family, which consists of Jack (Shia LeBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke), all of whom are heavily involved in the distilling of moonshine.
Lawless on paper might not be a movie for everyone, director Hillcoat had great difficulty getting the movie made on that very basis; but it does seem that regardless of this fact, the movie is winning fans in their vast numbers, as the movie releases across the globe.
The hook for Lawless starts the moment the character of Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) appears on screen for the third time. Few can doubt Pearce as a stellar acting talent, but few will be expecting a performance quite like this. Of all the things you may or may not be expecting from Lawless, few expect to stumble upon one of the most despicable villains in movie history. When Rakes rolls into town, you never once at any point get the impression of anything other than pure evil as a motivation for the character, Pearce delivers an Oscar winning delivery, as the most unpleasant and sickening character of all time. From his over zealous cleanliness issues, his corruption (he represents the law), and his grotesque brutality, he murders in the name of the law, and dishes out one of the most savage beatings we have seen onscreen for any time.
Hillcoat’s smooth direction, aided by Nick Cave's magnificent script means that Lawless is a beast that is eternally moving, in its almost two hours running time there is little time to catch your breath. If you are not being left on the edge of your seat from the action/violence, you are being charmed by the developing relationships of the characters, and a much needed romantic distraction. It’s the stories synergy that is the beating heart of this tale, as a comparison tale the story is like televisions The Waltons combined with the movie No Country For Old Men, this is a tale so good it would appeal to both ends of the audience spectrum.
LeBeouf is unjustifiably often the victim of criticism, but he is a consistently delivering actor, and no more so than here. He is the beating heart of Lawless, the reason you watch and love the movie; his transformation from little brother, to understated business mastermind is magnificent.
Tom Hardy’s interesting interpretation of Forrest, gave the makers of the movie real reason to be concerned, but it was a decision that was right, as he created the story female matriarch figure, in the male form. While Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Dane Deehaan, and Noah Taylor deliver blinding performances in supporting roles.
Lawless is a power, striking story, that sucks audiences in and leaves them begging for more, it’s an important movie of a time so forgotten, that shows that gangsters and corrupt cops are not exclusive to the big cities. If you see one period piece this autumn then Lawless is the one to watch. And if this does not get some nods from Oscar next spring there is something very wrong in the world of film.