A ripping yarn which balances its moonshine-fuelled suspense and drama with a shot of humour and a chaser of romance.


2 September 2012

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Plot summary

Set in the 1920s prohibition-era America, Lawless is the true story of the Bondurant brothers. As their illicit business and legend grows, so too looms the danger of bigger fish, and it's not long before the brothers must face the consequences.

John Hillcoat picked up widespread acclaim for his Australian outback Western, The Proposition, in 2005. It was scripted by Nick Cave and starred Guy Pearce, among others. For Lawless, Hillcoat has again teamed up with Cave and Pearce for another period piece about outlaws who refuse to play by the rules. This time, the story is set in the Depression-era Virginia, in the midst of Prohibition. Based on real events, Shia LeBeouf and Tom Hardy play brothers Jack and Forrest Bondurant – country boys who supplement their income producing ‘moonshine’ liquor for their neighbours. Impressed by local gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), younger brother Jack decides that the brothers need to step up their operation to compete – which tragically puts them firmly in the sights of regional special agent, Charlie Rakes (an oily and sadistic Guy Pearce) – who is determined to crush the local trade in illegal booze. At the same time, Jack is intent on wooing the local daughter of a preacher, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), while fallen showgirl Maggie (Jessica Chastain) takes a shine to the gruff and monosyllabic Forrest.

Lawless is an ripping yarn (in the proper, old-fashioned sense of the term), which, for the most part, manages to balance its moonshine-fuelled suspense and drama with a shot of humour and a chaser of romance. LeBeouf and Hardy demonstrate that they’re not just good for special-effects laden summer blockbusters, while Pearce gives us a memorable turn as the loathsome, sexually ambiguous Rakes – even if he occasionally strays into pantomime territory. Oldman’s character sadly seems to disappear two-thirds of the way through the movie, and some might find the ending a little on the anti-climatic side, but that doesn’t detract from Lawless being one of the summer’s more enjoyable and gutsy cinematic outings.