Based on a true story, Lawless tells the tale of the Bondurant brothers, bootleggers producing the moonshine that fuelled the criminal underworld of Chicago.
Their cosy relationship with the local cops allows them to drive across the supposedly closed county line unhindered, but the arrival of Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) heralds a change in their fortunes.
After tough man Forrest (Tom Hardy) is almost killed at Rakes’ instigation and brother Howard (Jason Clarke) fails to act, the family’s fortunes are turned by a show of entrepreneurial flair from Jack (Shia LaBeouf), previously the violence abhorring runt of the litter.
Jack strikes a deal to supply illicit booze to mobster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) but the more successful the brothers become, the more determined Rakes is to bring them down. The scene is set for a violent showdown.
Hardy plays Forrest like a explosion waiting to happen, always just a heartbeat from reaching his full destructive potential but it’s an assured performance by LaBeouf that really stands out.
The script calls on him to transform from wide-eyed innocent to conniving businessman and ultimately vengeance seeker, with a spot of romancing along the way. LaBeouf proves himself more than equal to the challenge and Lawless should finally distance him from Transformers and Sam Witwicky.
Pearce’s well-groomed Rakes has a touch of Herr Flick about him and at times seems a little too large for the careful performances around him but his dandy-like tendencies are overshadowed by a brutal and ruthless approach to dissent that fits into the film’s earthy tones.
As the two sides clash, Director John Hillcoat ensures they do so in a series of brutal and wince-inducing confrontations that will have you peeking from behind your fingers.
Lawless strips away the romance of bootlegging in much the same way as Unforgiven did for gunslingers, ensuring the criminality, brutality and danger of the period is always just around the corner.
Compelling and at times chilling, Lawless is a first class drama that deserves to be relished on the big screen.
Our verdict: 4/5