Release Date: 7th September 2012
Set in the 1930s prohibition era and based on true events, Lawless follows the legendary notorious bootlegger Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) and his two brothers’s Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), who are well known for being invincible. Yet, the brothers’ illegal dealings come under attack when Chicago’s finest agent and sadist Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) attempts to put an end to their schemes and their lives.
Based on the novel written by the grandson of the Bondurant brothers entitled “The Wettest Country In The World”, Lawless really encapsulates the struggles and temptations of 1930s prohibition America with such realism and authenticity. Told in the point of view of the youngest brother Jack, the film acts as a coming-of-age tale as he journeys from adolescence to manhood. Jack begins as the weak link of the family but as life hardens around him, he gains grit and eventually becomes the only one left to avenge his loved ones. It is impressive to watch an actor grow alongside their on-screen character so kudos go to LaBeouf!
Tom Hardy on the other hand, manages to create a powerful and immortal aura almost instantly. Although he has a calming and at times mumbling dialect, he would not hesitate to punch you in the throat with his knuckle duster if you so much as look at him the wrong way! With random nuggets of wisdom, powerful immortal strength and a formidable appearance, Hardy plays Forrest with such conviction. However, the animalistic grunts at the beginning of every sentence and the exaggerated southern accent make it hard for the spectator to decipher what he is actually saying.
The narrative showcases the traditional stereotypes of the outlaw/gangster film. With the outlaws becoming the sacrificial people’s heroes, the authorities becoming corrupt and the politicians creating the crime, it is easy to compare the narrative with the likes of Robin Hood. However, director John Hilcoat adds a welcomed light-hearted subplot to an otherwise very gruesome and dark story, in the form of a relationship between Jack and Mia Wasikowska’s Bertha.
So along with a whole lot of face breaking, throat splitting, tar & feathering, neck breaking and genital mutilation, the spectator bears witness to the elegant on-screen relationship between LaBeouf and Wasikowska. Lawless is even comedic in certain places; for example after a very traumatic scene, Jessica Chastain’s character explains how she pulled Forrest’s cold, dying body into her car and drove to the hospital, to which he replied with…. “I thought I walked?” This mixture of genres and creditable acting creates a great film that everyone can enjoy.
With all the focus on a boy’s journey to manhood and Hardy’s loveable, cool as cucumber but exceedingly terrifying Forrest, the supporting actors are pushed to the side lines. Gary Oldman’s underused gangster leader; Floyd Banner does not get the screen time he deserves. Equally, Jason Clarke’s Howard Bondurant is never fully developed unlike his onscreen brothers. However, Guy Pearce’s portrayal of the narcissistic sadist Charlie Rakes is so two-dimensional, that he somewhat represents a Hollywood fantastical villain rather than a true account. This uneven balance of character development does leave the film feeling a bit disappointing.
Yet, with beautiful landscape shots, rustic lighting and a countrified soundtrack that compliments the narrative perfectly; it is hard not to enjoy every aspect of Lawless… even the balls-in-a-jar scene!