Directors: John Hillcoat
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman
IF only films were the sum of their potential. This is the unfortunate disclaimer hanging over the head of Lawless: a film which, on paper, should be a hit for both critics and cinemagoers. Unfortunately, despite an impressive collection of actors and subsequent performances, Lawless falls short of what it could have been.
The Bondurant brothers—Jack (LaBeouf), Forrest (Hardy) and Howard (Clarke)—make a living by producing moonshine on a small scale in Prohibition-era Virginia. They have the local authorities paid off, but when Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Pearce) comes into town, the Bondurant boys find themselves caught in a dangerous battle with the law.
Rakes isn’t afraid to take matters into his own twisted hands, and tensions hit boiling point when ambitious Jack runs a liquor blockade in a truck filled with moonshine and strikes a deal with Chicagoan gangster Floyd Banner (Oldman).
Every member of the cast puts in a stellar performance—in particular, LaBeouf, Hardy, and Pearce’s villainous portrayal of Charlie Rakes—and there are some furious moments of graphic violence that are both hard-hitting and effective. The main problem with Lawless, though, is the storyline.
The plot is taken from the stranger-than-fiction real-life story of the Bondurant brothers (The Wettest Country in the World, by Matt Bondurant: grandson of Jack Bondurant), and it’s an incredible tale. Unfortunately, Lawless often gets bogged down in various subplots and, in many ways, seems like the filmmakers couldn’t decide on a core story they wanted to tell. The result is a meandering storyline that is occasionally brilliant and on track and, the rest of the time, loses the plot, focusing on characters and events that don’t complement the main thrust of the tale.
It’s a shame Lawless feels so disjointed because when it works, it really works; but when it gets lost in the details, it makes you wish it would get back to the fascinating point of the story. The real crying shame, though, is that it’s too easy to compare Lawless to the likes of Boardwalk Empire; and the HBO TV show does the multi-character sprawling tale of Prohibition-era America so much better.
LAWLESS is in cinemas now.
Review: Nathan Lawrence