Movie Review: Lawless

Movie Review: Lawless

Protecting a family legacy in the midst of social change

By Mark HadleyThursday 11 Oct 2012MoviesReading Time: 3 minutes

Mark Hadley reviews 'Lawless', starring Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf

Rating: MA15+
Distributor: Roadshow

Release Date: October 11 

Lawless reminds me strongly of another great gagster film, The Untouchables. But where that classic concludes that no one is above the law, this new story suggests only the really evil deserve to be held to account.

Lawless is based on the best-selling book The Wettest County In The World, a historical novel about bootlegging in rural Virginia during America’s Prohibition. Tom Hardy stars as Forrest Bondurant, the head of a family famed for producing ‘Apple Brandy’ moonshine for the county’s social gatherings. His brother Howard (Jason Clarke) is happy to lend the muscle to their operation, but little Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) dreams of becoming a bigger wheel. Jack is fascinated by the gangster ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd and his fine clothes and fast cars, but naïve about the risks he runs. When the Bondurants are threatened by Special Deputy Charlie Rakes for a cut of their operation, Jack sets his family on a collision course with the law.
Like the Prohibition classics that have come before Lawless is often a disturbingly violent film with scenes ready to equal Robert De Niro’s benchmark baseball bat attack in The Untouchables. Guy Pierce provides a creepy performance as the corrupt Charlie Rakes, a man with no qualms when it comes to getting his way. But as the equally fierce Forrest explains to his brothers, “It is not the violence that sets a man apart but the distance he is prepared to go,” – and how far he does will depend very much on his convictions.

Rakes is driven by a contempt for these ‘hicks’; the Bondurants by their love of freedom. Both motivations result in horrible outcomes, but the story still tries to make a distinction between the violence they initiate. I’m not sure it’s that easily maintained…

The Bondurants are ordinary, decent criminals just trying to make their way in the world without the interference of the law – hence the film’s title. However when the bodies are counted they stand as guilty as their opponents, and it matters little who fired the first shot. I think both the writers of the book and the film would have you believe that they did only what they had to survive, but Lawless actually contains an alternative that was open to all the characters. 
Jack falls in love with a Christian girl, the daughter of a Mennonite pastor who is just as formidable a character as his older brother Forrest. He too makes no apologies for the life he chooses to live, and commands the respect of his neighbours and friends. However this pastor’s personal integrity doesn’t result in a hail of gunfire directed at his family because he doesn’t believe himself to be above the law.

The truth is the Bondurants could have had peace any time they chose, not by giving into the law, but simply stopping their own lawlessness. Sadly they confused their freedom to choose with freedom from consequence. Forrest makes for an attractive hero in this age of the individual, and Lawless gently mocks this pastor for his ‘not of this world’ lifestyle. But it appears that old man at least understood he would be judged by a standard equally ‘not of this world’