Lawless (2012)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on August 28, 2012 @

Where has the western gone?

It's gone to Virginia.

Lawless is about bootleggers during Prohibition in the early 1930s, but it has all the staples of a western. Instead of the five Earp brothers, Lawless is about the three Bondurant brothers.

Lawless is "based on a true story," adapted into fiction by Matt Bondurant and then made into a movie. So it's twice removed from a "true story."

Lawless is the tale of three bootlegging brothers in Franklin County, Virginia. They have to resist another group of bootleggers and violent, invading lawmen, whose leader is vicious and corrupt.

These conflicts allow for bloody mayhem. And Lawless is pretty well blood-soaked.

The trio of Bondurant brothers is led by Forrest (Tom Hardy), who seems indestructible. The middle brother is the reckless Howard (Jason Clarke).

Much of the fictionalized story is about the youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBoeuf), who evolves from being a weak lad who can't kill a pig into an adult who can blow anything away.

Lawless is directed by John Hillcoat, who has a penchant for violence. Lawless is a rough movie.

The screenplay for Lawless was written by Nick Cave from the novel by Matt Bondurant, who is the grandson of Jack Bondurant.

The film is more mythic than actual, but at the end we do see a photo of the original Bondurant brothers.

The cast is first-rate. Lawless may be the movie that makes Tom Hardy a recognizable name. As the oldest brother, he has a powerful, palpable presence.

Hardy was the villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, but he wore a mask. He also made strong appearances in Inception (2010) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011).

But in Lawless, carrying some of the bulk he put on to play Bane, Hardy has an intriguing quality. As the seemingly invincible brother, he is both passive and volatile. He emits quiet power.

Hardy is set to play Mad Max in 2013 and Al Capone in 2014. He's a star on the rise.

Shia LaBoeuf is convincing as the youngest brother who is skittish but changes with age and experience.

Jason Clarke is solid as the middle brother. Mia Wasikowska engagingly portrays the smart young woman - the daughter of a preacher - who infatuates Jack.

Particularly effective are Jessica Chastain, as the weary dancer from Chicago, and Gary Oldman as a bootlegger boss. Oldman makes the most of his minor role. He is aces with a tommy gun.

The one role that seems too contrived is the violent lawman (Guy Pearce). He is an awkward mixture of near-camp and meanness. It's as though they are trying to make him bizarre and psychologically unstable. It's an unstable role.

But generally, in Lawless, character wins out amidst the brutal assaults and onslaughts.

In Lawless, the Bondurant brothers are outlaws, but they have a strong sense of frontier justice.

Just like a good western does.

© 2000-2024 Tony Macklin