starring Shia Labeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Guy Pierce, Jessica Chastain, Dane Dehaan and Gary Oldman
screenplay by Nick Cave
directed by John Hillcoat
Based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, Lawless is about a family of bootlegging brothers in prohibition-era America - in Virginia, I think. The three brothers are almost caricatures of isolated, proud, fiercely independent, insular hillbillies. Tough-as-nails, gun under every pillow type people. When I rented it I thought it was going to be a Depression-era gangster movie, like the Ma Barker Gang, Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, that sort of thing. But that’s not what it was.
Big city gangsters are trying to move in and control rural bootleggers to supply their illicit alcohol trade. At the same time corrupt local law enforcement is simultaneously protecting their neighborhood bootleggers (for regular payoffs) while trying to put on a show of enforcing the federal anti-alcohol laws (for regular paychecks).
I was happy to watch Tom Hardy, Guy Pierce and Gary Oldman because I like them and they are all superlative actors. Guy Pierce plays a dandy but pathologically violent big city copper determined to crush to local bootleggers. He isn’t appreciated because the locals see him as an unwelcome outsider importing his outsider ways. Tom Hardy leads a local band of notorious brothers who are credited with the moral high ground. Shia Labeouf plays the inexperienced, impatient youngest brother eager to prove himself by independently making bigger and bigger deals with gangsters higher up the outlaw food chain. Eventually his deal-making steps on his big brother’s toes and causes conflicts of interest within the family liquor business and increasingly dangerous and unwelcome situations. All the brothers get shot to pieces but no one dies. It’s amazing. But all in all, since it wasn’t what I expected, I felt I wasn’t quite getting it.