Based on the book “The Wettest County in the World,” Lawless stars Shi LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke as the Bondurant boys, three brothers who make moonshine during Prohibition. While older brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) is content to sell his hooch around the county, youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) wants to make some money, impress the lovely preacher’s daughter, Bertha Minnix (Mia) and become an all around man around town, if not an actual big-time gangster. Howard is the third brother and the least developed of the characters, being relegetaed to the role of muscle for most of the film. Forrest is rumored to be invincible, since his WWI unit drowned and he alone survived. No one in the county is willing to mess with the Bondurant boys until Mason Wardell comes to town to enforce Prohibition and stop the flow of liquor to Chicago and other places. Wardell doesn’t want to actually stop the moonshiners, he just wants a cut of their profits, which all of the other moonshiners are willing to give him, except for Forrest, who speaks for the Bondurant boys. His refusal begins a war that is by turns quiet yet bloody and violent, and one that finally leads to a major confrontation and a lot of change for an out of the way county in Virginia.
I really feared that this movie would end up being a sort of rehash of Boardwalk Empire only in the back woods instead of at the beach. However, the film avoids almost everything that Boardwalk Empire touches on, despite having some places in common, like Chicago. Lawless isn’t your average Shia vehicle either, like Transformers or Eagle Eye. I think part of the reason I enjoyed the film so much is that Shia’s character Jack has to share the spotlight with Forrest and to a lesser extent, Howard. Jack is still sort of a watered down version of the characters LaBeouf usually plays: the young, eager man trying so hard to prove himself that all he really does is end up showing how much of a boy he really is. Yet because the intensity’s been dialed down on his character, he actually comes across as likeable instead of a jerk.
Forrest, at least for me, actually steals the spotlight. The story spends a large amount of time with his character, though mostly through the eyes of others either talking about him or watching what he’s doing. Forrest is a taciturn soul, who grumbles under his breath more than he actually talks, and while he’s a moonshiner and not afraid to use violence if necessary, it’s not his first reaction to most things. But when violent action or revenge is called for, then he’s terrifyingly good at making bad things happen, almost as much as Howard is. The invincibility of not only Forrest, but all of the Bondurant boys is tested in the film, though it’s mostly Forrest’s legend that people discuss.
Lawless is much more of a drama than an action movie or a summer blockbuster. The characters are all well drawn and the action for the most part seemed realistic, though there are still parts of the movie that felt a little bit unbelievable.
So is Lawless a See it or a Skip it? It’s a See It.