At the Movies - ‘Lawless’ review

Shia LaBeouf as Jack Bondurant in 'Lawless'.
Shia LaBeouf as Jack Bondurant in 'Lawless'.

The movie’s violence may rival Shipquay Street on a Saturday night but John Hillcoat’s ‘Lawless’ beautifully filmed, well acted and the soundtrack is perhaps one of the best of 2012.

Set in the ‘Depression’ and ‘Prohibition’ era in Franklin County, North Virginia, three brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy – ‘The Dark Knight Rises, ‘Inception’ and ‘Bronson’), Howard (Jason Clarke – ‘Death Race’, ‘Public Enemies’ and ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’) and Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf – ‘Transformers’, ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ and ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’) make their money by concocting industrial levels of moonshine in the hills.

Tom Hardy as Forrest Bondurant.

Tom Hardy as Forrest Bondurant.

The operation is led by middle brother Forrest, who legend has it, can’t be killed. The prohibition era meant that men like the Bondurants could make fortunes selling their moonshine to gangsters like Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman – ‘Leon’, ‘The Book of Eli’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’) who in turn took the recently purchased hooch and sold it on in cities like New York, Boston and Chicago.

However, the Bondurant boys’ bootlegging days looked to be numbered when ruthless special agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce – ‘Ravenous’, ‘Memento’ and ‘The Proposition’) arrives in Franklin; it’s a case of who ever blinks first, loses.

Australian director John Hillcoat (‘The Proposition’ and ‘The Road’) marries perfectly the extreme violence that exists in the world of Bondurants with the beauty of Franklin County.

There’s a scene about half way through; one of the movie’s main characters is attacked by a man with a knife.

The aforementioned scene is quite graphic and I did scrunch my toes when I watched it but despite the violence, Hillcoat makes it a memorable moment by setting it against a black night sky filled with falling snowflakes.

Hillcoat’s use of light and shadow to convey what’s happening in certain scenes is brilliant.

In one instance, all I saw was the silhouette of Guy Pearce’s barbarous Charlie Rakes; it was all I needed to see to know it was him and that’s what makes Hillcoat a talented director.

Hillcoat clearly believes that he doesn’t have to show his audience absolutely everything for them to know what is happening; it’s a sign that he wants the audience to use their own imaginations and as a result it makes for a much more engaging and distinguished cinematic experience.

Hardy (who was clearly preparing to play Bane in Chris Noaln’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’) is brilliant as the often mono-syllabic Forrest.

Forrest is fearless and although Hardy successfully conveys Forrest’s appetite for violence he also managed to make me believe that he was fair and capable of a certain level of compassion.

Hardy is fast becoming one of most talented and sought after English actors around and his ‘Lawless’ performance abounds in charisma, weight and style.

Shia LaBeouf Jack Bondurant is almost equally as good Hardy’s Forrest.

LaBeouf is most certainly an actor with bags of guile and versatility and his transition from a Jack with early Michael Corleone like innocence to a Jack intent on revenge at all costs is totally believable.

Singer songwriter and composer, Nick Cave, who wrote the screenplay for Hillcoat’s 2005 movie ‘The Proposition’, makes a decent job of Matt Bondurant’s 2008 novel ‘The Wettest County in the World’.

Cave’s screenplay is fitting to the world of the Bondurants but the characters of older brother Howard and tokenistic love interest Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain - ‘The Debt’, ‘The Help’ and ‘Coriolanus’) are under utilised and not fully explored.

Every Robin Hood type story needs its Sheriff of Nottingham; enter stage right special agent Charlie Rakes.

Pearce’s portrayal is perfectly sinister and rivals Hardy’s for best performance. Rakes teeters on the edge of camp and the ease with which he embraces violence is almost disturbing; Pearce is on top form.

Verdict: 4/5 - ‘Lawless’ won’t be an easy watch for many because of its graphic violence but it’s justified and required to make the world of the Bondurants believable. Hardy, Pearce and LaBeouf are utterly brilliant and Hillcoat’s Franklin County is at the same time beautiful and ruthless.