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Shia LaBeouf
Tom Hardy
Gary Oldman
Jessica Chastain
Mia Wasikowska
Jason Clarke
Guy Pearce.
John Hillcoat.
Nick Cave.
Running Time
110 minutes

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The booze brothers

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In 1920s Virginia, the notorious Bondurant brothers’ bootlegging operation comes under threat from the Chicago mob and the Chicago cops — each as deadly as the other.

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It's clear what attracted talented Aussie director John Hillcoat and writing partner Nick Cave to this true tale of Prohibition Robin Hoods running hooch from their hardscrabble network in the Appalachian foothills. Three brothers, a sliding scale from surly alpha dog to soft-skinned pup keen to show his mettle, up against the law in an era of indeterminate morality — here is a Stateside sister-piece to The Proposition’s gristly hymn to outlaw siblings. Likewise, as their former film is a Western transported to a fly-plagued Outback, their latest collaboration is a gangster movie shuffled down the supply line to the groves and shacks of hillbilly America. Both are ultra-violent, credibly acted and handsomely shot. Both dally over the notion of the crook as folk-hero. But, where The Proposition was firm in its convictions, Lawless is fidgety and ungainly, a collection of firecracker scenes in search of a compelling story.

Shia LaBeouf plays baby-Bondurant Jack, a likable rowdy with more dreams than brains and almost the protagonist. His journey from whelp to wiseguy nominally frames the movie. Will he make the grade as bootlegger? Or will his older brothers try to keep him clean like a corn-pone Michael Corleone? Gary Oldman gives a brief recap of those pre-Smiley pyrotechnics as city hood Floyd Banner, and a star-struck Jack starts to dress the part, playing the big shot in this pigsty outrider of mob rule.

Hillcoat’s camera is equally impulsive, flitting to other faces, nosing into new plotlines, gravitating to Tom Hardy’s meaty menace as middle-brother Forrest, head of the operation. Conversing through a glossary of irritable grunts, he possesses a brooding, charismatic potential for violence; although we need to overlook the anachronism of (Bane-ready) girder-thick shoulders in Depression-era Virginia. On we go to Jason Clarke’s unreliable, underwritten oldest Bondurant, Howard. He’s World War I shell-shocked, the twitching, woozy product of one too many snifters of the produce. Then token-dame Jessica Chastain grabs some attention as a former showgirl who unfathomably hooks up with Forrest, with few qualms about his eagerness to punch people in the throat.

Like The Proposition, Hillcoat mounts a memorable, colour-throttled image: a wooded hill lit up like a Christmas tree with the glow of illegal stills. On either side of the law, the violence is unsettlingly psychopathic — a Chicago smile is merely hors d’oeuvre for what the Bondurants have in store for those who cross them. It’s a gesture toward moral perplexity — good and bad merely shades of the film’s desaturated texture.

There is a mild flirtation with contemporary relevance in its commentary on recession-era cunning and the corrupt foundations of American corporate life. And an insinuation that the myth the Bondurants peddle alongside their (literally) petrol-strength apple brandy is mostly bunkum. Curating the soundtrack, Cave reinforces this stab of the postmodern by reinterpreting the likes of Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat for banjo and washboard.

Yet, fresh in town is Guy Pearce as prissy, asexual Chicago special agent Charlie Rakes, intent on cleaning up the county. Suggesting an intriguing opposite to the brute, macho Forrest — all acid intellect and bottled cologne — he turns out pantomime fruitcake, a rote, ludicrous villain. And we’re back in movieland.

That’s just it — the filmmakers can’t decide whether to print the well-oiled legend or the coarse-grained truth. Rooting around for something substantive to say about both the Bondurants’ slippery place in history and the rat-a-tat-tat indulgences of the genre, Lawless sells us half-strength moonshine.

An uneven mix of impressively executed, violent clichés about good ol’ boys defending the American right to flout the law.

Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Lawless
Empire Star Rating

Some People Get Shot And Some Shit Gets Bootlegged. Questions?

Lawless is a gangster film with more than a couple of stylistic nods to Bonnie and Clyde. The performances are surprisingly decent; Shia LaBeouf gives probably his best performance thus far, and Tom Hardy drawls his way through his lines in a manner befitting his character. Now, the film itself is very poor. The script is cliché and the screenplay is poor and predictable. It follows the traditional gangster story arc, tracking the crimes and the lawmen attempting to bring the criminals to j... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 13:28, 08 March 2013 | Report This Post



Empire User Rating

Posted by chrisdagnall at 17:39, 03 February 2013 | Report This Post

I really enjoyed this film, it's not perfect (there again, no film is) but the story and the acting were strong enough to keep me drawn in and entertained throughout. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by AC1993 at 15:41, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post

Tom Hardy good Performance.

This is not a masterpiece but Tom Hardy & Shia Labeouf . Do good Performance's in this movie ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by soulfood at 22:13, 20 October 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Harsh verdict!

Lawless A film about redneck moonshine bootleggers, well yeehaw!. Apparently this is an adaptation of a book which recounts true events from 1931 in the USA. The story is actually based on the author's real family from around this era, he seems to be proud of his relations criminal activities then. Well its based on fact so it makes the film more interesting. Visually this film looks the business, its gritty, violent and thoroughly well made from top to bottom. I love how everybody lo... More

Posted by Phubbs at 07:07, 25 September 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Harsh verdict!

Enjoyed this. Thought it was just my age that meant I sometimes couldn't make out what they were saying, so it was a relief to hear that it wasn't just me. Beautifully filmed. Can't really say what I felt about the ending without spoiling it for anyone, but I was surprised to say the least! ... More

Posted by moehat at 22:29, 17 September 2012 | Report This Post

Harsh verdict!

I was really surprised with how much I liked this. I don't care if a film is about washing up, I'll go and see it if Hardy is in it and he didn't dissapoint (with what he had to work with anyway). I'm not ashamed to say I love a bit of violence in a film and this seriously delivered in that department. Guy Pearce was excellent and Shia was ok. I really found I was gripped all the way through this and didn't look at my watch once (unlike when I saw Promethius). Bit of a lack of Oldman but it didn... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 13:55, 13 September 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Lawless

If you are a fan of John Hillcoat’s 2005 Australian western The Proposition or a listener of Nick Cave’s gothic rock music, then you will feel right at home with their latest collaboration, based on Matt Bondurant’s historical novel about his ancestors’ involvement in the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy during the Prohibition era. Set in Franklin County, Virginia, the three Bondurant brothers – Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) -- run a successful liq... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 00:39, 13 September 2012 | Report This Post

Was totally absorbed.

Not perfect and rather rambling plot but a fine capture of the period and some very convincing violence. Loved Guy Pearce in yet another volte of character. Dialogue hard to make out from several of the actors at times but lent to the authenticity of the time and place. The 112 minutes went past without me noticing which is always a good sign. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jocklet at 11:57, 12 September 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Lawless

Australian director John Hillcoat changes pace considerably from his last outing (2009's ultra-bleak but brilliant The Road) and delivers a hugely entertaining Depression-set drama about bootleggers in Virginia. Lawless marks his second collaboration with musician-cum-screenwriter Nick Cave who also scripted Hillcoat's 2005 Aussie western The Proposition. It documents the real-life expolits of the Bondurant brothers who distil and distribute their own moonshine and become embroiled in a bloody... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Biggus at 00:29, 12 September 2012 | Report This Post

Lawless - not flawless.

Was looking forward to this being akin to Public Enemies, but it was largely all surface sheen as it tried to juggle all its characters. Was a bit surprised when the 18 certificate came up as I was expecting a middle of the road 15 to appeal to Shia Labeouf's demographic, but was generally happy with the excessive blood letting (especially liked the knuckledusters to the throat). Tom Hardy was good with what he had to work with, Shia was 'meh', but Gary Oldman was woefully under used in w... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Popcorn Required at 11:49, 11 September 2012 | Report This Post

Not as great as it should be...

Lawless looks fantastic, but it feels unfocused. The whole film suffers from a meandering narrative that introduces characters, then forgets about them for half an hour or so while we focus on the minutiae of courting a preacher's daughter. With 30 minutes more than it needs, it ends up trying to cover too many bases, and comes out as merely good. With faster pacing and a tighter narrative, it could have been great. ... More

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Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 00:47, 10 September 2012 | Report This Post


Hopefully I'm wrong! ... More

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Posted by guysalisbury at 16:31, 07 September 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Lawless

I saw this on Wednesday with a Satellite Q&A thingy hosted by Empire’s very own Chris Hewitt.  Poor Chris seemed poised throughout with a stricken grin as to how inane most of the answers supplied from Hillcoat, Cave and Noah Taylor really were/were going to be.  (Even if Nick was very funny it was humour out of aversion to the inane).  When Nick said that the source novel was filled with “dialogue to die for” I really wanted Chris to ask why he never thought to put any of it... More

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Posted by demoncleaner at 14:44, 07 September 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Picture Spoiler!?!?!

And then you proceed to spoil it for people that hadnt seen the picture - d'oh!! Good work both of you. ... More

Posted by Clarence Worley at 14:22, 07 September 2012 | Report This Post

Picture Spoiler!?!?!

I'm pretty excited about Lawless, but I'm going to be very annoyed with Empire if the picture they have shown in the magazine and the picture they have used in this review are going to ruin any part of the plot. Tom Hardy on the floor shot and Shia LaBeouf also shot. Hmm! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 13:16, 07 September 2012 | Report This Post

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