20’s prohibition America has been done; glamour, high times and gangsters; now Lawless tells the small-time tale of the bootlegging Bondurant brothers, shifting from the usual scale and scope to hillbilly activities in a place far removed from the big smoke.
A refreshing take for sure, telling the story of the seldom seen hidden country backbone of the white lightning trade, highlighting a backward existence at the turn of a pre-modern America.
At the core are the primitive siblings, operating out of a legitimately faced gas station enterprise, masking an illegal trade that divides a community and shortens the reach of the long arm of the local law when the hill clans hold powerful.
No longer isolated when the federal law makes a call, dealing and taking profits from local rivals, the brother’s perilous choice not to sell out when squeezed brings a war out into the hills and country.
Step to the fore “indestructible” big bro’ Forrest (Tom Hardy), family commander to Howard (Jason Clarke) and youngest brother, Jack (Shia LeBeouf) to advise and execute wilderness law in brutal episodic violence. A reluctant brute, preferable of peace, but ruthless when doing what’s needed.
Hardy excels as has become customary in the expected violence and is again a true physical force; Forrest is enigmatic in parts, but opposite glimpses of vulnerability are not developed nor revealed, too often presenting most critically, nothing more than a basic man of limited ability. Hardy’s hillbilly tones impede too, making him often harder to understand than Bane!
Stereotypical characterisation hinders any true connection or care of any plight, personified by Howard, a raw, animalistic drunk, fulfilling nothing more than the role of a psychotic henchman.
Extraordinarily, LeBeouf arguably steals it in a relatively superior turn, given more screen time as the primary storyteller, and greater scope and relative depth as the naïve, aspirational younger brother, inexplicably bringing unwanted attention to the families moonshining activities.
And Jessica Chastain, once more elegantly plays the hardy (get it?) city belle Maggie, far more knowing and experienced in the ways of violent men than first appears as Forrest’s tentative love interest.
Guy Pearce as the primary law enforcer, Rakes goes from the sublime to the ridiculous, via genuine chills to a cringe-worthy, heckling final showdown, overplayed beyond anything preceding.
Gary Oldman appears only twice as local Kingpin Floyd Banner, in itself a bigger crime than anything on screen, an opportunity wasted to pitch two British heavyweights together once more.
Lawless’ small scale story labours to never really reach the heights to fully utilise its array of talent or provide a truly epic kinfolk’s story, but the slow burn does build to some satisfying old style shootouts and fisticuffs, and a believable finale of clan loyalty and no matter how limited a play, Hardy is always compelling to watch in brooding intimidation.
A decent tale of family loyalty, violence and an intriguing snap shot of an outback America that at times threaten to deliver something epic; falling short when gathering a pool of stars to wastefully only provide in the most part, one-dimensional characters, entrenched pacing and an overriding sense of ‘should have been better’.