In competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Lawless is a tale set against the 20s Prohibition era in the United States, telling the historical tale about the three Bondurant Brothers running their moonshine business, and seemingly, against all odds, came through a period of corruption, lawlessness, and just about having to watch over their shoulders almost all of the time while they eke out a living. Based on the book The Wettest County in the World written by one of their descendants Matt Bondurant, the film boasts a stellar A-list cast but didn't seem to lift the film under the direction of Australian director John Hillcoat.
Instead I was more enamoured by the many of the era's motor vehicles instead, which were featured in some detail, and making their appearances as a tool for transporting the brothers' illegal liquor, or to be used as a babe magnet on dates. And with most gangster films, shoot em ups are part and parcel, which Hillcoat shot with aplomb, especially when riddling the sheet metal with holes and shattering many of the cars' windows. Violence is part and parcel expected during the time amongst those who live their lives breaking the law, and Lawless does have its fair share of unflinching, violent set pieces that range from getting one's throat slit from ear to ear, to bloody castrations. It's survival of the fittest and the ruthless, especially when needing to exert influence and convince the naysayers.
Which, instead of something being done by the bad guys, turn out to be something adopted by the law instead. Special agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) turns up seemingly being tasked to sweep Franklin County, Virginia, from its vice like grip on moonshining, being the infamous moonshine capital of the country, only to find that he's in it for some kickbacks, which if not agreed upon by the bootleggers, this will spell trouble. So for the Bondurant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), this meant being under Charlie's radar and being systematically dealt with to varying degrees of impact, sometimes Charlie having to rely on a proxy to do his dirty work.
We all know how tough Tom Hardy can be, but this role somewhat projected a more muted involvement from the strongman, being the leader of the brothers' operations, but having to contend with a romantic subplot with Chicago fleeing dancer turned waitress Maggie (Jessica Chastain) instead. Jason Clarke as second brother seemed to be the extra amongst the trio, while Gary Oldman made a cameo in a gangster role, appearing in a handful of scenes just to up the star ensemble. Guy Pearce on the other hand, really made his Charlie Rakes role his own, the cop who uses any extreme methods to get the job done, although very little is said of the sociopathic character outside of his job scope.
It's been some time since Shia LaBeouf made an appearance on the big screen (since the last Transfomers movie last year), since this one time rising star seemed to have had his wings clipped for slamming one of his earlier films. It's good to see him back not in a goofball role, but one that mirrored Michael Corleone's in The Godfather, having the baby of the family inevitably roped in to carry the family business with new perspectives and dare, and growing into the role that calls for pulling the trigger when required. In some ways Lawless also seemed to love centering around this character, charting his meteoric rise in their moonshine business, his courtship of a preacher's daughter (Mia Wasikowska) and his partnership with family friend Cricket (Dane DeHaan), who's their distillation expert.
The narrative develops at a meditative pace, slowing life down and then putting focus on a few pertinent issues that happened in recorded accounts. You will begin to realize just why these three brothers were once thought to be invincible, given the ordeal they have to go through, in order to operate something for so long, under the noses and the long arm of the law. The film explodes only toward the end when all hell broke loose, and in the meantime to endure the film, you can feast your eyes on the beautiful technical aspects that make up costumes, production sets, and yes, the vehicles.