Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Howard Clarke and Jessica Chastain. Written by Nick Cave and Matt Bondurant. Directed by John Hillcoat. Produced by John Allen, Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Jason Blum, Mathew Budman, Megan Ellison, Cassian Elwes, Lucy Fisher, Scott Hanson, John Brooks Klingenbeck, James Lejsek, Randy Manis, Laura Rister, Ben Sachs, Ted Schipper, Rachel Shane, Douglas Wick, Dany Wolf and Clayton Young.
Moonshine, gun fights and forbidden romances all run rampant throughout Lawless and still, the most fascinating thing about the film is its ability to take such inherently captivating material and somehow make it lackluster. The second most interesting thing is that out of all these actors, former Disney kid Shia LeBeouf gave the most convincing and notable performance.
Ironically, the legend behind the extraordinary Bondurant brothers' starting of the moonshine trade and the myth of their invincibility ends up being completely insignificant and uninspiring. Forrest (Hardy) is featured in less than a handful of scenes where he actually does anything – this includes speaking (he normally grunts and walks out of the room), interacting, fighting, etc. He's the classic brooding bad-ass...and never extends beyond that, giving a one dimensional performance that lacks both nuance and color. Howard (Clarke), who isn't in the film enough, has the potential to be interesting as the more protective but volatile brother who struggles with an uncontrollable drinking problem – but he's never developed into anything more. Desparate for the approval of his two older brothers, Jack (LaBeouf) is the softy of the brothers who gets swept up in the glamorous lifestyle of being an outlaw and eventually makes mistakes that force him to do some growing up.
Business can't go on as usual, and the brothers are thrown for a loop when new special agent, Charley Rakes (Pearce), moves into town from Chicago with intentions of straightening out and eliminating the illegal activity they've become accustomed to, even if it means making a few enemies. The least dynamic of the characters, Pearce is a fancy pale-skinned, white glove-wearing FBI agent with no eye brows who's pure evil, living and breathing only to take down the Bondurant boys. Why? We have no idea, besides the fact that he's a bad person with a mysterious personal vendetta against their family name. The movie slowly progreses into a violent blood bath, where it comes down to the Virginian natives of the town engaging in a shoot out with the law.
It would be one thing if Lawless was aware of its tropes and either played them up or avoided them altogether, but instead it uses them earnestly, making it hard to take the story or characters seriously. Set in Franklin County, Virginia, the film emulates the same feel of old classic gangster movies, but doesn't bother to play up this effect and fully take advantage of the over the top fun the genre has to offer. Instead, senseless violence becomes the focus and without any style or underlying substance, it just becomes boring and tedious – you can only watch someone get slashed up so many different ways before the shock factor dies down. So, viewers are left with an underdeveloped character-driven plot that lacks detail and suspense, providing little to no insight to the historically rich time period it takes place in.