Set in 1930s America during the years of prohibition, Lawless tells the sometimes violent story of three brothers in Virginia who distil their own moonshine and make quite a tidy profit by distributing their product. The Bondurant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) are operating quite efficiently (even selling their illicit liquor to the law), until a new Special Deputy from Chicago (Guy Pierce) comes to town with the remit to close down all of the stills in the area to stymie the flow of illegal booze to the city.
The driving force behind the story is Forrest, he is the main guy that pulls all the strings of not only the Bondurant operation, but all of the distillers in the region. He is obviously a dependable and well respected member of the Virginia moonshine trade, and as such Tom Hardy is brilliant. I feel he is almost this years Michael Fassbender; appearing in several very different films and absolutely capable of delivering a superb performance no matter the character. As Forrest he has a wonderful screen presence (much like Bane), and you never really know what is going on behind those restless eyes; you never know how he is going to react to a situation. It is this unpredictability that makes Forrest such a powerful character, and Tom Hardy plays it wonderfully.
The film has many great qualities, but perhaps the most amazing one is that director John Hillcoat (of The Road fame) gets a pretty good performance out of Shia LaBeouf! I enjoyed him in Transformers, I felt he was just right as the excitable kid who becomes friends with giant robots, but then he became a whiny bitch in Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon; and he is just lamentable in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Here he plays the youngest of the Bondurant bothers just right. The runt of the three, he initially has a hard time convincing Forrest and Howard that he is serious about getting involved in the business; but while the elder brothers are out of the picture for a while he takes the initiative to drive to Chicago and sell their hard liquor to notorious crime lord Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman - magnificent as always), and comes away with a huge amount of cash. Jack then spends all his money on fancy clothes, cars and on efforts to woo local church elder's daughter Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska). Much like Sam Whitwicky, LaBeouf plays this exuberant and excitable character very well.
As Howard Bondurant, Jason Clarke doesn't actually say very much, and given that he is constantly drinking their own product, when he does speak he isn't that coherent! I've already said how great Gary Oldman is, but his first scene where he is driven into town, callously guns down a competitor with his Tommy gun, gives Jack a barely noticeable wink, and then drives off is wonderful. He doesn't say a word at any point, just winks at Jack, but he really doesn't have to. Guy Pearce is also wonderful. Well his character isn't, he is a slimy, sinister and sadistic guy, but Pearce is perfect with it. Thinking about it, his character is very similar to Forrest's, though on the side of the the law; but despite that he is clearly the villain of the film.
Additional to some great performances the film looks amazing thanks to DOP Benoît Delhomme, particularly some of the tree-scapes that are in the film! The music is also very cool; Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score one of my favourite soundtracks (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) as well as The Road, and there are moments in Lawless that sound very familiar, though the overall ambience is nothing like either The Road or TAOJJBTCRF. I was also surprised that Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless too, but he certainly did a great job.
I thoroughly enjoyed Lawless, excellent cast (even LaBeouf is good), unpredictable (even up to the final scene), explosive moments of violence, cool music and beautiful to look at too. I'd heard that there were mixed reviews about this film, so perhaps my expectations were lowered and the film accordingly exceeded them. Either way, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is perhaps thinking of going to the pictures and isn't sure about Dredd or a remake of a classic Arnie film.