‘Lawless’ tells story of Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy

“Lawless” tells the story of the Bondurant family—Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke)  —a trio operating inside the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy in 1930s Virginia.

The screenplay by musician/writer Nick Cave follows the plot of “The Wettest County in the World,” a true story about the trio written by their grandson Matt Bondurant.

When the Bondurant brothers look to expand their bootlegging business, a sadistic and cunning special deputy (Guy Pearce) arrives from Chicago, attempting to muscle in on their operations before becoming hell-bent on destroying their way of life.

The film deals with themes of family, love, duty and personal legends. The brothers strive to maintain and protect their family ties as well as their bootlegging—which often goes hand in hand.

Jack—perhaps the central protagonist of the film—struggles to reconcile the (ahem) lawless side of his identity with an earnest attempt to be a good catch for the preacher’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska).

At the same time, Forrest —the other candidate for protagonist–faces rumors circulating about his supposed immortality, rumors he mostly believes.

One of the biggest strengths of the film is director John Hillcoat’s ability to transport the viewer to the locale. The impeccable costuming and Hillcoat’s grayish-brown color scheme—as seen in his previous film “The Road” —evoke a natural portrayal of Depression-era Virginia not dependent on stylistic flair. The dirty Americana folk soundtrack by Cave and Warren Ellis certainly play straight into this ideal.

Overall, the cast is stunning together with fabulous performances by LaBeouf, Hardy, Pearce and Gary Oldman (as if that needs to be mentioned).

LeBeouf proves that he has moved beyond his token one-dimensional sitcom and action film roles to a well-developed protagonist with Godfather-esque conflicts. His affected Virginia drawl doesn’t distract from his focus on the performance.

Hardy manages to give a simply charming and intimidating performance despite his speech being somehow more garbled than it was in “The Dark Knight Rises.” His raw, carefree physicality fits right into this gritty, dirty crime tale.

As a whole, “Lawless” gives a fairly even mix of heartwarming sentiment and visceral brutality. The story and characters are compelling and inviting, giving the audience a memorable and well-done crime film for the end of the summer blockbuster streak.