I’ve seen John (The Road) Hillcoat’s Lawless two or three times now and if you are yet to see it make it one to watch. If you love a 1930’s setting and a little bit of cool thrown in for good measure (fans of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire will adore this), then this is the one for you. Starring Tom Hardy (an actor now recognized as greatly talented and wholly diverse), Shia LaBeouf and (now leading man) Jason Clarke prohibition drama Lawless focuses on the real-life story of the Bondurant brothers, who in 1931, set up a bootlegging business from their hometown of Franklin County.
The film runs at 115 minutes and in that time features an array of action-packed scenes as well as some masterful acting from the likes of LaBeouf and co-star Dane DeHaan (who, if you’ve read previous reviews you’ll know is a firm favourite). These two spark well off of each other and represent what feels like a true brotherhood. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska add a feminine touch to a film dominated by strong males (Guy Pearce stars as the villain of the piece) and the latter personifies the trials of disobeying ones parents in the pursuit of finding your feet perfectly, with Chastain channeling the aura that actresses from the Golden Age of cinema encompassed.
Narrative-wise we join the Bondurant’s while in the midst of running their illegal liquor business – with LaBeouf’s Jack struggling under authority of his older, and extremely tough, brothers Forest (Hardy, rarely saying more then two or three lines of dialogue per scene. Envisage a 1930’s Bane of sorts) and Howard (Clarke). We find the trio under threat from Pearce’s malevolent and at times truly frightening Charlie Rakes (the whole Lawless theme is best understood when Rake is in the frame) and what ensues is a almost cat and dog chase. Together, this ensemble give viewers a hell of a lot of masculinity to deal with and a foreboding sense of whats to come in the finale. Hillcoat directs the cast with what feels like a lenient eye – allowing Hardy to brood about the place, lending to a naturalistic production (remember, however unbelievable events may feel this is a true story. Prepare for ‘What the hell?!’).
The whole piece is full of quite brutal violence and is most definitely not a watch for those with a nervous disposition when it comes to gore. An adult film, Lawless portrays a time in American history that had a higher crime rate despite authorities’ attempts to do the opposite and displays well the challenges of growing up in a family full of strong and disciplinary members. Clarke doesn’t have his moment in the sun here but the potential for a leading man can be seen, and to see him now take centre stage is a pleasure. Together, the entire cast help to create a sense of realism – after all these happenings are all true, with some perhaps exaggeration for good measure – and overall Lawless is an enjoyable ride with a dark undertone to it.
A family story which doesn’t hold black, Hillcoat’s film portrays well the difficulties of small-town 1930’s America in a time of repression and social rebellion.