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This review is from: Lawless [DVD] (DVD)Bursts of savage violence, fine acting from a top class cast and atmospheric direction grace "Lawless" a semi-biographical crime drama set in at the height of prohibition Virginia. Reuniting director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave, the creative team behind the excellent Australian drama "The Proposition", Lawless" follows the travails of the Bondurant brothers (Forrest, Jack and Howard played respectively by Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke) a family of bootleggers who clash with a sadistic Chicago law enforcer by the name of Rakes (Guy Pearce) sent to Franklin County demanding payment from bootleggers for the privilege of supplying moonshine without reprisal from the law. Headed by the thoughtful but when necessary violent Forrest, the Bondurant brothers refuse to comply and war ensues between the outlaws and lawmen. Thrown into the mix is a pair of romantic subplots involving Forrest and a runaway Chicago dancer named Maggie (Jessica Chastain) and the youngest Bondurant Jack with a preacher's daughter played by Mia Wasikowski.
Quickly establishing the outlaws as heroes and lawmen as villains "Lawless" occupies a middle ground between mainstream gangster action and art house drama. When the inevitable violence comes it's quick and suitably horrific. Characters are tarred and feathered, there's a graphic throat slitting and a particularly nasty beating dished out by Rakes to Jack. Yet this is not a gratuitously violent picture and as vicious as Forrest and Howard (a shell-shocked, often drunken war veteran who operates largely as additional muscle) can be to protect their livelihood there is never any question of which side we're rooting for. Sleazy, cruel and foppish almost to the point of caricature Rakes is a pantomime but effective movie villain through and through. His character exists to make life as difficult as possible for the outlaws and be generally repulsive. In this regard Guy Pearce does strong work getting us to hate Rakes. Another colourful villain is supplied by Gary Oldman in little more than an extended cameo role as a Chicago mobster. Reminiscent of the kind of flamboyant bad guys the actor was once famous for it's a distractingly brief part leaving us wanting more Oldman.
Amongst the aforementioned bloodshed valuably tender moments are provided through the strikingly well played female leads though the romance involving Jack and a preacher's sheltered daughter feels slight and underdeveloped. Chastain's dancer fares better, her chemistry with Tom Hardy and steely fortitude when caught between Rakes' men and the brothers is always compelling. While the drama focuses somewhat on Jacks journey from "runt of the litter" to becoming a major cog in his brothers operation the standout performance and main reason to seek the film out comes from the ever charismatic Tom Hardy. Drawing laughs through Forrest's taciturn nature, commanding and compulsively watchable his performance is the highlight in a film that also boasts a darkly humorous streak that allows for several unexpected laughs. With lyrical imagery to go with its brutality "Lawless" may not have many new tricks up its sleeve but it is constantly watchable and entertaining if a fine shot shy of greatness.