In the American prohibition era, Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) has built a thriving moonshine business in Franklin County, Virginia, which he runs with his older brother Howard (Jason Clark) and his younger, impressionable brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf). Locally, the Bondurant brothers are regarded as invincible. Maggie (Jessica Chastain), the beauty with a secret past comes to work for the Bondurants and becomes romantically involved with Forrest, while Jack takes a shine to Bertha (Mia Wasikowka), the preacher's daughter. But Franklin County's bootlegging days are about to end with the arrival of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) from Chicago who brings violence and corruption to challenge everything the brothers represent. But the Bondurants will bow to no one.
Review by Louise Keller:
Making moonshine makes for dangerous times in Franklin County, Virginia, which is where John Hillcoat's intoxicating tale of gangsters, bootleg and survival takes place. In a superb adaptation of Matt Bondurant's semi-factual novel about the life and times of his grandfather Jack and two brothers, Nick Cave's screenplay flows easily with rhythms and cadences that are echoed in his diversely wonderful music score. The thriving business prompting the region to be termed 'The Wettest County in the World' (the name of Bondurant's novel), becomes a magnet for greed, and violence follows. With its great sense of time and place and top cast, this is a stylish genre movie that is a heady mix of gangster and western.
Through the voice-over narration of the story's protagonist Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf), we get a sense of life in the remote, wooded rural setting, where the three brothers run their illicit, high-profit business under the guise of a petrol station and eatery. Legend has it that they are invincible. LaBeouf plays the youngest brother, whose journey from innocence to manhood is one of the film's most satisfying story arcs as he tries to earn his brothers' respect. He may have shown his incompatibility with violence from an early age, but in the scene when flamboyant gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) pelts non-stop bullets during a trip to town, Jack is clearly impressed. Tom Hardy brings charisma and gravitas as Forrest Bondurant, who is in charge of things, while Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke) offers brute force, armed with bottled up rage from perpetual whisky binges.
With dyed black hair, a glaring middle parting, no eyebrows and a permanent snarl, Guy Pearce makes his mark as sadistic, narcissistic special deputy from Chicago, sent to intimidate and collect a cut of the action. It's a memorable performance and Pearce makes every little gesture count. I like the line in which he says "It is not violence that sets men apart, but the distance they are prepared to go" and it is telling that it is him being called 'a nancy' that is his undoing.
Also memorable is Jessica Chastain as the girl from Chicago with a secret past, who is looking for somewhere quiet. The fitted peppermint dress she wears in her entrance is a knock-out, reflected by Forrest's loss for words and the expression in his eyes. There's good chemistry between Chastain and Hardy and their relationship develops nicely. Another distraction from the main game of bloody violence and killing is the developing relationship between Jack and the preacher's daughter (Mia Wasikowska), who has a disarming charm of her own.
In service of the story, Hillcoat never flinches from the portrayal of violence and the film is certainly not for the squeamish. So realistic is the depiction, I had to look away several times. Watch out for Noah Taylor and Nick Cave also makes a cameo appearance as a gangster. There is an appealing buoyancy to the film, achieved by its delicious, raucous spirit reflecting the times and lifestyle and empowering us with a sense of adventure, connecting us in spirit with the tale we have just seen.
Review by Andrew L. Urban
Whatever of this story is legend or fiction or fact, it's a damned good story, and cinematic in every respect, especially in the hands of John Hillcoat and his team. Hillcoat's cinematic choices have always been around violent issues, from his extraordinary 1988 debut, Ghosts ... of the Civil Dead, and the striking 2005 Aussie Western, The Proposition.
On those as well as on this film, he works with Nick Cave, who writes the screenplays (or co-writes) as well as the music. In the first he also stars... The collaboration extends to Guy Pearce, who starred in The Proposition, and makes a wildly fancy turn here as the perfumed dandy from Chicago with the cruelty of a dictator, as Special Deputy Charlie Rakes.
Tom Hardy plays the 'invincible' Forrest Bondurant, big brother to Jack (Shia LaBoeuf) and the man calling the shots in the family moonshine business in early 1930s Franklin County. There was as much blood flowing as there was moonshine, though, as the illicit sale of alcohol was a steady source of good money - which had to be protected by paying off the law enforcement officers. Prohibition ended a failure; it didn't stop drinking, it created business opportunities for criminals and generated corruption in government. Exactly what is happening under the global prohibition of drugs, by the way.
The violent story of the Bondurant family's clashes with the law, and their monopolistic approach to the business, offers a couple of redeeming features. Family love and loyalty is evident, and is the driver for much of the action. Romantic love also plays a role in the story, both in the lives of young Jack, who is smitten by the preacher's daughter, Bertha (Mia Wasikowka), and Forrest, whose grunting, begrudging, mucho-macho heart is captured by the dancer from Chicago who comes to town for a peaceful job, Maggie (Jessica Chastain).
Noah Taylor (the third Aussie in the cast) finally gets one of his acting wishes - or close. He once said to me during an interview he hoped one day to play a serial killer, or similar. Well, at last he gets to play against type as a henchman for Gary Oldman's Floyd Banner.
Tense and engaging, Lawless explores the conflict between official power and private determination, while the personalities that drive this conflict are the forces of nature through whom we participate.
Beautifully photographed and carried along by a multi-layered score, Lawless also has a sense of humour, which saves it from being too brittle.
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CAST: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, Noah Taylor
PRODUCER: Michael Benaroya, Megan Ellison, Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick
DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat
SCRIPT: Nick Cave (based on novel "The Wettest County in the World' by Matt Bondurant)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Benoît Delhomme
EDITOR: Dylan Tichenor
MUSIC: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Kennedy
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 11, 2012