Author Matt Bondurant spent his childhood raised in Alexandria, VA, just hours away from his grandfather Jack's residence in Franklin County. His ancestor's wild tales of prohibition-era bootlegging and invincibility fascinated him enough to turn the family folk lore into his own 2008 novel The Wettest County in the World. And with the aid of up and coming director John Hillcoat, Bondurant's grandfather and granduncles will now have their story told on big screens everywhere.
Set during the prohibition-era in Franklin County, Viriginia, Lawless follows a trio of brothers known for bootlegging moonshine. The Bondurant boys, consisting of Jack (played by LaBeouf), Forrest (played by Hardy) and Howard (played by Jason Clarke), run a flourishing low key bootlegging operation in rural Virginia. That is until crooked politicians from the city swoon in on their territory and demand a piece of the action. But after refusing to work out a deal with local authorities, Charlie Rakes (played by Pearce) and the strong arm of the law attempt to put an end to the Bondurant's business.
John Hillcoat's Lawless is a fascinating blend of drama and action that entertains and hooks the audience with effortless precision. As part Western and part Gangster movie, Lawless places the viewer at the forefront of prohibition in the rural setting of Franklin County. Backed by an astonishing cast that's as talented as any other I've ever seen, Hillcoat's brand of violent, yet mesmerizing, filmmaking leaves nothing to the imagination. Shia LaBeouf heads the brilliant cast and delivers a momentous performance. As the story's central character, LaBeouf's role is essential to the success of the film. Without a hitch or a reason to doubt, the young talented actor takes control of the picture and carries Lawless from start to finish, However, it goes without saying that the entire cast deserves quite a bit of recognition as well. Tom Hardy shines as the brute force of the Bondurant brothers as well as Guy Pearce, the weaselly big shot trying to shut down the non-cooperative moonshine operation. Thanks to such a gifted cast, Lawless offers memorable scene after memorable scene and catapults itself into Gangster Movie stardom.
Coinciding with the film's glowing cast is the smooth crisp screenplay by Nick Cave. Lawless is far more than a violent crime movie, Cave's honed skills help to create a surprisingly comical affair with massively effective subplots. The laughs are unexpectedly consistent and the intriguing dissection of the sibling psychology is authentic and honest. We see Jack Bondurant as the ambitious but non-physical brother desperate to gain the respect of his older siblings. It's minor details such as these that flourish and give depth to an otherwise slightly generic Gangster film. And while some will criticize that Lawless offers nothing new to Mob movie genre, I'll argue that its character development, light-hearted comedy, and effective subplots come together to make it a complete film.
Considering how much I wanted to enjoy Lawless, I can honestly say that John Hillcoat and his entire team exceeded my lofty expectations. Although the film feels like it runs longer than its hour and 55 minute runtime, Lawless never skips a beat. The feature is both engaging and fun on every level imaginable, proving that Lawlessis one of 2012's best efforts. If you believe that you can stomach the violence and gore that occurs throughout the entire duration of the film, then you're sure to love Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce and everything else that Lawless has to offer.