Bootlegging. Gangsters. Outlaws. What's not to like about this 1920s tale about three bootlegging brothers in Prohibition-era Virginia based on a true story? It turns out a lot, as John Hillcoat's movie "Lawless", written by Nick Cave falls short of the gritty dramas that have set the standard for this period in American history.
Set in Prohibition-era Virginia in the Depression years, the movie tells the story of three brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) who are known bootleggers. They sell to law enforcement, the sick elderly and even to colored folks. There is an aura of invincibility among the brothers led by Forrest who never speaks a sentence longer than eight words. However when Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes to town wanting a cut of the profits it sets the brothers on a path of eventual all out war with the authorities.
Believing in the principle that it is their American right to sell moonshine, Forrest refuses to work with law enforcement leading to a confrontation with Rakes men where Forrest throat is slit and his love interest Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) is brutally raped. The action picks up significantly at this point in the film as younger brother Jack takes on the business and sells the family moonshine for more than double the price to gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). With Banner providing the location of the men responsible for Forrest's attack, the war is on.
LaBeouf turns in an admirable performance as younger brother Jack, who is idealistic in nature and is wowed by men such as Banner, who according to him have more vision and passion than his older brother Forrest. Jack is also intent on wooing the local preacher's daughter Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), who has a rebellious side to her. But the true star of the movie is Hardy who sheds the mask he wears in "The Dark Knight Rises" to show his ever-growing acting talent. His slow, measured words and his accent give the character of Forrest wonderful dimensions.
The art department and set crew went through tremendous lengths to give the movie the right touch of 1930's Virginia. Even using the ever-popular plant of the South: kudzu, to conceal the brother's moonshine distilleries. The set has wonderful touches to depict the era like signs designating white and colored water fountains, vehicles of the era and scenes with families and all their possessions on the side of the road, victims of the Depression years that are just beginning.
"Lawless" is rated R for bloody violence, language and some nudity.