Synopsis: Set in the Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by authorities who want a cut of their profits.
Release Date: August 29, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Action
Lawless is the based-on-a-true story of the Bondurant Brothers, a trio of moonshiners and bootleggers in Prohibition-era Virginia. Forrest (Tom Hardy from The Dark Knight Rises and Warrior) is the brains behind the operation, the leader and shot-caller of the gang. Howard (Public Enemies‘ Jason Clarke) is the muscle, saying more with his fists and guns than with his words. Jack (Shia LaBeouf from the Transformers movies) is the youngest Bondurant brother, eager to learn the family trade but seemingly much too sensitive for the work. In the beginning, the Bondurants have a pretty good thing going, with local law enforcement on their payroll, but when a new deputy named Charlie Rakes (Memento‘s Guy Pearce) arrives in town demanding a bigger cut, Forrest and the boys take offense. Rakes makes it his personal mission to shut the Bondurant operation down and Jack, eager to prove himself, tries to align himself and his brothers with a known Chicago mobster named Floyd Banner (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy‘s Gary Oldman) in an attempt to thwart Rakes. There’s little honor amongst thieves as the Bondurants are tasked with figuring out who they can trust.
Directed by Australian hot-shot John Hillcoat (The Road), Lawless was adapted for the screen by Nick Cave (the musician from The Bad Seeds, who also wrote the script for Hillcoat’s The Proposition) from the novel “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant (yes, one of those Bondurants, the grandson of Jack to be precise). It’s unclear how much of the story actually occurred, but an air of realism and authenticity flows throughout the entire film. The script is a well written, if at times a bit uneven, treatment of a fascinating time in the history of the country. Lawless has the look and feel of an indie art film, yet goes Hollywood with the inclusion of a couple of sweet love stories, Forrest with a barmaid named Maggie (The Help‘s Jessica Chastain) and Jack with a Mennonite preacher’s daughter named Bertha (Mia Wasikowska from Alice in Wonderland), that seem superfluous until the third act when everything ties together. A cross between an action-packed drama and a character-driven thriller, Lawless may take a few minutes to get rolling, but once it does, it does not disappoint.
Like all good crime films, the heroes in Lawless are the criminals and the villains are the cops. The anti-heroes are much more likable than the folks who are trying to bring them to justice, and since everyone knows what a silly law Prohibition was, the viewer can’t help but root for the Bondurants in the same way that they root for Bonnie and Clyde, Mickey and Mallory, Tony Montana and Patrick Bateman. The charismatic Bondurants are far more fun to watch, therefore making them much better protagonists than the arrogant Charlie Rakes, effectively putting them in the moral right in the audience’s eyes. Lawless keeps with the outlaw hero formula that accompanies the greats, setting it up to become an instant classic of the true-crime genre.
The cast in Lawless is, without exception, great. Although Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf get top billing (and deservedly so, as both are wonderful), the undercard is where the real surprises are in this film. Of course Gary Oldman makes the most of his limited role as the gangster Floyd Banner, and Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are perfect love interests for the boys, but the real scene stealer is Guy Pearce’s Charlie Rakes. Pearce takes his character to the edge of sanity and even dangles a foot over every once in a while, making Charlie Rakes hated by characters on both sides of the law. Pearce is so good at being horrible and is so hated by everyone, viewers and characters alike, that the audience no longer wonders if Rakes will be killed; the question becomes, which side of the law will do it? It takes a powerful actor to generate that kind of an emotional response and Pearce does it very well.
In any good period film, music is an important element. The soundtrack for Lawless was mostly written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (the same pair who scored Hillcoat’s The Road and The Proposition, as well as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), and the majority of the songs are fairly spot-on for the time period. The bulk of the songs were recorded by Cave, Ellis and a handful of other musicians going by the appropriate name The Bootleggers, joined by vocalists ranging from Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan to country music legend Emmylou Harris. There is a somewhat modern stamp on the traditional music, with a Bootleggers version of a Link Wray song (“Fire and Brimstone”) and not one but two versions of The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat,” one by The Bootleggers with Lanegan and one by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. There are a couple of instances where non-diegetic songs momentarily break the suspension of disbelief by sounding a little too modern for the period but, for the most part, the soundtrack songs add authenticity to the depression-era feel of Lawless.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): John Hillcoat
- Screenwriter(s): Nick Cave
- Cast: Tom Hardy (Forrest Bondurant)Gary Oldman (Floyd Banner)Guy Pearce (Special Agent Charlie Rakes) Shia LaBeouf (Jack Bondurant)Jessica Chastain (Maggie)Mia Wasikowska (Bertha Minnix)Dane DeHaan (Cricket Pate)Jason Clarke (Howard Bondurant)
- Editor(s): Dylan Tichenor
- Cinematographer: Benoit Delhomme
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Warren Ellis
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA