starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman
directed by John Hillcoat
screenplay by Nick Cave
based on Matt Bondurant's The Wettest County in the World
The Weinstein Company (2012)
After sitting through three Transformers movies and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, about the last thing I wanted to do was watch a movie starring Shia LaBeouf. And if not for a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, and a cameo appearance by Gary effing Oldman, I would have likely skipped Lawless altogether. I'm glad I didn't.
It's Prohibition Era America and three brothers in Franklin County, Virginia don't cotton to the law telling them how to handle their affairs--namely moonshining. There's Jack Bondurant (LaBeouf), the young upstart of the trio, trying like heck to be like his tough-as-nails older brothers, Howard (Clarke) and Forrest (Hardy). Things are going easily enough, paying off the local sheriff and fueling Chicago and mobster Floyd Banner (Oldman) with illegal booze, but then Agent Rakes (Pearce) comes to town and lets Forrest and his brothers know they have to give him a cut of all future deals. Sufficed to say, Forrest has a particular way of telling Rakes to go f**k himself, and thus a battle between the Bondurant brothers and the law begins.
Aside from a couple of strained Appalachian accents, the overall atmosphere of this movie was on the money. The costumes, the set designs, and music composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis--Ellis is a musician, too?!--all helped to make this movie really easy to get wrapped up in. And the casting choices wound up being one of the key reasons the movie was so enjoyable. Tom Hardy just steals scenes with barely any emotion beyond a gruff harumph and a scowl. Jessica Chastain, while her role was predominantly a damsel-style role, did a remarkable job giving her some spirit and vitality. And Guy Pearce, who apparently needs role plum roles like this, as the dastardly lawman just oozed villainy, with a fiendish charm rivaling his performance in Iron Man 3. As for Shia LaBeouf ... well, his portrayal of a callow youth punching above his weight was his most believable performance yet.
The film doesn't really dive into the nitty gritty of prohibition and its effects on rural America, but it feels genuine. I think that's due to it being based on the real-life antics of author Matt Bondurant's grandfather and great uncles. It's about family, and with that focus the movie is highly enjoyable, providing equal measures of humor and suspense. And after enjoying the movie as much as I did, I'm quite curious to check out its source material, which I imagine does a little more to add details to the lives of the Bondurant clan. I'll drink to that.