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Released 7 September 2012
Director John Hillcoat

Tom Hardy, Shia La Beouf, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Justin Clarke
Writer(s) Nick Cave

Megan Ellison, Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick
Origin United States
Running Time 110 minutes
Genre Crime, drama, western
Rating 16

Blood Brothers.

Aussie director to watch John Hillcoat teams up with screenwriter and composer (and all around force of nature) Nick Cave for the third time with Lawless, the tale of the three Bondurant brothers- Forrest, Jack and Howard (Hardy, La Beouf, Clarke), whose Prohibition-era bootlegging operation is threatened by officials wanting a piece of the pie. It is by far Hillcoat’s most accessible film to date- following arthouse-tinged offerings, The Proposition and The Road- and a plethora of highly regarded actors will help guarantee his move into Hollywood terrain in coming years.

Welcome to 1930s Franklin County, Virginia- AKA ‘The Wettest County in the World’ (on account of its residents moonshine brewing habits). Here, the ‘shine is currency and violence is a method of payment. Times are tough and the industry is threatened by the arrival of ruthless Special Agent Charlie Riggs (Pearce). But these here Bondurant boys don’t lay down for nobody, and so begins a vicious cycle of violence between bootleggers and a police force bursting at the seams with corruption. "It’s not the violence that sets men apart, but the distance he is willing to go", grunts a physically domineering Forrest. It turns out that Hillcoat is willing to go pretty far. Unflinching violence pervades almost every scene and lingers long after vanishing from the screen. Those with a low tolerance be warned. While this brutality is perfectly necessary in depicting the harshness of the era, unfortunately the story itself is lacking.

Rather than focusing on the Bondurants’ rise to power within the bootlegging world- which would have made a far superior tale- set against the backdrop of the Dustbowl and the hardships that faced the majority of America (which is reduced to a pitiful few minute montage), the film instead focuses on ego-driven runt of the litter Jack’s struggle to prove his worth and Riggs’ violent quest to bring the brothers down. Story faults aside, the acting luckily remains unaffected.

La Beouf is put very much at the forefront and gives a surprisingly solid performance. However, your enjoyment of the film will largely depend on your ability to stomach his not quite nerd- not quite hunk brand of semi-annoyance. Hardy impresses as usual as the seemingly indestructible Forrest; a man with a unique moral code that does things his way but may be beginning to crack under the charms of a woman (Chastain). He is altogether a far more intriguing character and should have been given main focus. Jason Clarke is also excellent as high on his own supply family enforcer, Howard. Expect his name to crop up in future Hollywood fare. A chillingly snide and cruel Guy Pearce steals almost every scene as one of the most memorable screen villains in years, while a criminally underused Gary Oldman appears in two key scenes before disappearing. The women aren’t given much to do either, featuring mostly as damsels in distress. Chastain’s only real purpose is an almost pointless plot reveal in the film’s third act.

Though we are treated to some beautiful images of the sprawling Western landscape and credible acting all around, Lawless is severely let down by its weak storyline. That’s not to say there isn’t an interesting story in there somewhere, it’s just a fine shame it’s not the one we’re given.

- Cathal Prendergast