Nick Cave-penned A-list prohibition drama starring Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy
John Hillcoat and Nick Cave re-team after gritty Aussie western The Proposition for Lawless, another tale of strong-willed men living in a period of violence and uncertainty. This time round, the action takes place in prohibition-era America, specifically the moonshine-soaked mountains of Franklin County, Virginia. Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) makes a living brewing and smuggling liquor with his brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy, phenomenal) and Howard (Jason Clarke, solid but unremarkable). Their easy-going relationship with the local law comes to an abrupt end with the appointment of vicious enforcer Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce).
Cave’s decade-spanning screenplay ticks by at a fair pace, punctuated (as you might expect) by bursts of extreme and bloody violence. Credit is also due to Proposition cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, who perfectly captures the grandeur of the Blue Ridge Mountains, misted over with vapours from illicit moonshine stills. Castwise, Hardy and Pearce turn in powerhouse performances, the former conveying a mythic steadfastness through a series of taciturn grunts, the latter a seething embodiment of straight-laced sadism. However, it’s left to LaBeouf to carry the main weight of the story, and as such your enjoyment of the film will depend on whether you find his brand of wide-eyed earnestness endearing or irritating. Certainly, his role as the less stoic brother is a necessary counterpoint to Hardy’s mountainous immovability, but his place in the story mimics his place in the cast: trying his darndest, but unable to match his peers.
Lawless screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival and is on release in the UK from Fri 7 Sep.