Period drama “Lawless” tells the story of three bootlegging brothers in Prohibition-era Virginia struggling against a new special deputy who has come into town to control and profit from the illegal moonshining business.
The tale is based on the novel “The Wettest County in the World,” which tells the story of the real-life Bondurant brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke).
It’s established in the first scene that youngest brother Jack is not as inclined to violence as his older brothers, and his naiveté is continually emphasized throughout the film as he charges into situations half-cocked, whether it be to woo the preacher’s daughter or take revenge on the special deputy.
Forrest, the undisputed leader of the trio, communicates mostly in grunts, but the viewer grows more attached to him than the supposed main character of the drama, Jack.
Hardy portrays him as steadfast and unwilling to bend to the special deputy. He is also quick to resort to violence when it’s needed to intimidate.
The third brother, an obvious alcoholic, comes and goes, but doesn’t evoke much feeling beyond when he fails Forrest.
Guy Pearce’s portrayal of the germophobic, eyebrow-less special deputy is creepy and effective—the audience quickly learns to distrust him. He’s seen beating Jack quickly after Forrest’s refusal to pay the new bribe required of moonshiners, and his obvious contempt for the brothers and all the mess they cause adds to his general air of disgust.
The strange love story between Jack’s character and the preacher’s daughter is juxtaposed with stunning scenes of violence.
The love story and the violence are jarring next to each other, but both have a certain richness to them, especially in the case of Forrest’s brass knuckle-wielding fist.
The film builds up to a final confrontation with the special deputy that feels like a long time coming.
It seems like a shotgun to the special deputy’s face 15 minutes into the film would have prevented all the problems he caused, including the multiple attempts on Forrest’s life.
Despite some missing pieces, the attention to detail of the era and the impressive performances on Hardy and Pearce’s parts make for an intense film filled with violence, moonshine and lawlessness.