It’s 1920s America and Jack (LaBeouf), Forrest (Hardy) and Howard Bondurant (Clarke) run a small moonshine business out of their home. As quaint as that may sound, the brothers are anything but. They’re more the type that’ll kick your head in if you stare at them for too long. When the sale of alcohol is outlawed, the new deputy, Charlie Rakes (Pearce), offers to turn a blind eye to their activities in return for a handsome cut of their profits. The brothers naturally refuse this blatant attempt at extortion and before you know it, a war erupts between the brothers, whose business, against all odds, is expanding at an incredible rate, and the deputy, who simply hates the fact that people who dare defy him exist.
While on the surface, the film is a very classic western flick, the many, diverse, beautifully rich relationships make it really special. The film opens with two kids pressuring their younger brother into shooting a perfectly healthy pig. He’s unable to comply and on this track grows the relationship between the Bondurant brothers; fearsome, tough, deadly, remorseless Forrest and Howard with little Jack bringing up the rear, constantly battling to prove his mettle to his older brothers.
In addition to their family dynamic, both Forrest and Jack court very different women in ways befitting their own characters and in contrast to most testosterone-heavy films, neither Wasikowska nor Chastain’s characters get shunted to the side or treated as mere eye candy. The latter plays a troubled city girl who runs off to the country, trying to escape her past, eventually falling for Forrest, while the former plays the preacher’s daughter who knows full well that, as far as her dad is concerned, the Bondurants are off limits, yet can’t help being wooed by Jack’s endearingly clumsy attempts at impressing her.
While this may come as a shock to anyone who associates LaBeouf with the Transformers films, the guy knocks it out of the park here and more than holds his own against the far more respected actors that the cast is strewn with. And while Hardy, while barely saying a word, manages to find the humanity in a brute of a character in the name of honour, family and survival, Pearce goes for a manifestation of pure ego. Rakes is what happens when you spend your whole life being told you’re a special snowflake and take that to heart, resulting in a state of shock when you meet people who refuse to treat you with the level of respect you believe you deserve. He’s a pathetic person in a position of power, completely psychotic and a villain worthy of the Bondurants.
Lawless is an excellent film and even though it’s gritty and violent (seriously, it’s not for the squeamish), it’s still highly entertaining on a mainstream level. It’s basically a fantastically acted, brilliantly told popcorn flick; our type of fun.