For the Bondurant gang, purveyors of apple brandy in the depression-era south, legend–their own, that is–is the stuff that makes the world turn; their illegal business thrives on it. That they are viewed as invincible by foes helps keep the deck stacked in their favor and keeps the moonshine dollar flowing in, the occasional shootout with a rival notwithstanding. When Forrest (Tom Hardy), the eldest of the Bondurant brothers gets badly injured in an attack, legend has it that he walked twenty miles to the hospital bleeding from a gaping slit in his throat. Later on when his employee (Jessica Chastain) tells him that it was she who drove him to see doctors Forrest Bondurant affects surprise, it’s almost endearing. The outlaw believed in his own tall tale.
Based on a true story (adapted from a book written by a real-life Bondurant), “Lawless,” which was directed by Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat (“The Road,” “Red Dead Redemption”) entertains very reliably, all the elements of the epic gangster tale of violent survival on display making for suspenseful drama. Tom Brady and Shia Labeouf go head-to-head with competing gangs and lawmen as they expand their brandy production. Things take a dangerous turn when a federal officer dispatched from Chicago—he’s zealous and he’s vicious—called Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) shows up.
Rakes would take out his own mother in case the opportunity came, apparently. Pearce plays fiercely, his dark view of the world coupled with a tendency for gratuitous violence acting as a flamethrower. Of his portrayal of federal agent Rakes Guy Pearce said, “I chose not to read the book.” He expands by saying, “there was so much in the script for me that I did not feel the need to read the book, I’m not sure how different the character in the book is from the one in the screenplay.”
One major uncertainty about “Lawless” is the casting choice of Tom Hardy. A British actor endowed with a natural gift for playing gangsters and tough guys (check out “Bronson” by Nicholas Winding Refn) Hardy has appeared in films made in England and recently accessed the rank of Hollywood’s next potential A-lister. Problem is, whether his character is a kingpin in a Granada T.V.-produced feature or a moonshine-dealing Southerner, Hardy plays Hardy. He always plays Hardy but sometimes does accents. What’s more, his modern-looking physionomy doesn’t quite fit the ones encountered in 1931 (same could be said about Shia Labeouf, although Labeouf is capable of a little more emotional range than Hardy).
One interesting fact is that the screenplay was written by the musician Nick Cave. In a press conference after the film Cave said that writing the script was “child’s play.” “I loved the classical love stories that were involved.” “That and the excessive violence,” he continues, “these two elements titillate me.”
“Lawless” is competing for the Palme d’Or.